Authentic, exotic and halal

coffee, say Nescafé. This may not be the best tagline for the most
popular Nestlé product around the world, but it says a lot for the

In fact, “Nescafé is our best-selling product in China
and Japan. We’ve created a coffee habit there,” says Hans-Peter Imhof,
general manager of Nestrade (Nestlé World Trade Corporation).

with all habits, personal preferences are a major part of the mix. So
local operators have to be quick and versatile about adapting products
to suit their respective market needs and tastes.

Halal foods are part of the Taste of Home range, say Alexander Klein (left) and Hans-Peter Imhof.

used to be 100% pure coffee. Now, we add all sorts of ingredients to
it,” adds Datuk Frits Van Dijk, executive vice-president of Nestlé S.A.
This includes kidney beans in Thailand, and for Malaysians, there’s
Nescafé Tongkat Ali and the 3-in-1 option.

(Frits was chief
operating officer of Nestlé Malaysia in 1987, then market head from
1988-95, and received his datukship during his stint here.)

strategy of catering to local demand has a hand in the company’s
decision to concentrate on halal food in Malaysia, where it has been
operating since 1912.

“For years now, we have been working with
Jakim (Islamic Development Department of Malaysia) and other
authorities to develop strict standards on halal products,” says
executive vice-president Jose Lopez, who was managing director here,
then regional head for Malaysia and Singapore from 1999 to 2003.

with its reputation as the authority on halal products, Malaysia has a
level of understanding and technology that can be a reference for other
countries, Lopez adds. As the first to focus on halal production, it
can also open opportunities for others, like China and India, where
there are factories set up specifically for that.

Halal is one
of the three pillars of Nestlé’s Taste of Home concept – the other two
being Authentic and Exotic – designed to bring ethnic products from
Asia, Oceania and Africa to Europe.

“The idea is to delight
consumers with something familiar from home, and tempt Europeans to
trying something new,” says Alexander Klein, manager of branded
products channel development at Nestrade.

For example, a Swiss
office worker who has read something about the East may want to try
preparing a Malaysian curry. He could get the recipe from a sticker
pasted on a packet of curry paste, add in powdered coconut milk from
Sri Lanka, and there’s his dish.

Nestlé started getting into
ethnic food five years ago in Holland, which hosts a multi-cultural
society. Initially, people started asking for Maggi products and Nido
(powdered milk).

Noting the potential for growth, Taste of Home
was launched last year. Today, products under this label are easily
available at over 1,000 mum-and-pop shops in Holland, Germany, Italy,
Belgium and Switzerland.

Estimates have it that there are over
10,000 such outlets across Europe. They are frequented by immigrants
hankering for a dish they remember fondly, or a younger generation that
has found a place abroad but still wants its food to be certified halal.

ensure quality and freshness and traceability of production. We may
alter one or two ingredients to make sure the products are original and
halal and compliant with the laws,” Imhof says.

There is
stringent adherence to the laws when it comes to production and
delivery. “The ingredients used in, for example, Maggi noodles must be
acceptable to every country, not just certain countries. And when we
say it has no GMOs (genetically modified organisms), we ensure that
even the truck that transports our wheat has not carried something that
had GMOs, for fear of cross-contamination.”

With the authentic
and halal pillars solidly in place, the company is looking at
highlighting the exotic element of Taste of Home. Increasing global
mobility is a solid groundwork for that. The next step is to enter the
modern trade outlets.