After 17 long years, an Indian will be heading Nestle India.
The company said in a statement on Friday that its managing director for India, Etienne Benet, would move to the group's head office in Switzerland. He will be replaced by Suresh Narayanan, a former Nestle India executive and currently chief executive of the company's Philippines unit. He will take the reins on Aug. 1.
Swiss food group Nestle has replaced the head of its Indian operations as the company battles its worst ever public relations crisis in the country, following a food scare that forced it to withdraw its popular instant noodles brand Maggi. Narayanan will be at the helm during a testing time when the company is trying to recover from the damage to its biggest brand that was worth Rs 2,000 crore. Since the ban was imposed, Nestle has destroyed 24,000 tonnes of Maggi stock, and taken a loss of Rs 2,500 crore, or 20 percent of its annual revenues in India.
Analysts had been expecting a change in leadership for the business, which was widely criticised for its slow response to consumer worries over safety.
The company withdrew the noodles, tested safe in Singapore and the United Kingdom, from the shelves of Indian stores last month. It has since challenged the findings of India's food safety authority in court.
"An Indian in India is able to possibly interact better with the government at large," said brand strategist Harish Bijoor. Unlike Hindustan Lever, which has been led by Indians since 1961, Nestle has reposed its faith in expat managing directors since 1998.
Nestle has been at the centre of India's worst food scare in a decade, after a regulator in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh in May found excess lead in a sample of its popular Maggi noodles.
The Swiss firm had to bring group chief executive Paul Bulcke to calm consumers at a televised press conference last month, where he was frequently shouted down by Indian reporters.
Bulcke acknowledged the company had slipped in the way it handled the food scare. "If you have confusion there is something wrong with communications. That's why we are sitting here," he said at the event.
(With inputs from Reuters)