India reveres first-mover advantage. Here, Kwality is a generic term for ice cream, Cadbury for chocolate and Xerox for a photocopy, with no anxieties about trademark violation. Here, the homecoming of Maggi must be somewhat dramatic, like Batman Returns. And, indeed, it hits the market on Thursday
with an internet flash sale, shoulder to shoulder with Chinese mobile phones and no-frills airline tickets.
Overseas, Maggi was a late entrant in the instant noodles market, which was opened up in 1958 by the Taiwanese-Japanese businessman and inventor, Momofuku Ando. The brand is hard to find in most countries outside of India and usually, the quickest way is to try an Indian store. In India, it has become a portmanteau term for instant noodles because back in the Eighties, it was the right noodle in the right place at the right time. India had become aspirational, and owning a house, a car, a tape deck and jeans was suddenly more attractive than having a stable job from which you would retire with a tiny pension and a monogrammed watch. Men were in a hurry and meanwhile, the Liril ad was urging Indian women to break out of the kitchen, even if a refreshing waterfall was not nearby. The stage was set for a meal that could be put on the table in two minutes.
Three decades later, India is in the midst of a food revolution. The nearest meal is only an impulsive phone call away. Working people think nothing of living for days on end on delivery and street food eaten standing up. Eating out, which used to be a symptom of Western contagion, is normal. And yet, the idea of quick-fix comfort food is still a plate of instant noodles. The first mover is still like mother-made.