The ever-increasing prices of LPG cylinders, combined with the already astronomical vegetable prices, have acted as a boon for Nestle’s Maggi. The two-minute noodles, which have so far been a favorite with urban children and youngsters, are quickly becoming the staple diet of Indians living around and below the poverty line.
Earlier last week, the central government hiked the cost of cooking gas by Rs 220 per cylinder, thus pegging non-subsidized cylinders at Rs 1,241 per piece in the national capital. This steep hike practically pushes cooking gas beyond the common man’s reach.
For joint families living together on a single gas connection, this comes as a severe blow. And as if the gas woes were not enough, prices of onions and tomatoes, among other vegetables, continue to be at an all-time high. At Rs 65-Rs 85 per kilo, these once-basic vegetables are now competing with more exotic counterparts such as broccoli, celery and imported bell peppers for prestige and stature.
“There was a time when we used onions in virtually every dish we cooked,” says Mrs Chandiramani of Ulhasnagar in Mumbai, adding, “in fact, you could tell, from the fragrance of onions, that you were stepping into the Sindhi colony of Ulhasnagar. This UPA government has snatched away our pride. We now use onions only on birthdays and festivals.”
Her neighbour, Mrs Patel, echoes similar sentiments. “This government has broken our backs. We can have sev-tamatar ki sabzi no more! Tomatoes have become so expensive that instead of using them in curries, I have decided to pickle and store them away. In case they become costlier, we might think of auctioning them online to raise money for cooking gas.”
Even as the middle class continues to grieve, the worst-affected are the poor. For many of them, the combination of expensive cooking gas and expensive veggies makes square meals impossible. Instead, ready-to-cook noodles are a cheaper option.
“For the past one week, my wife and I have been buying Maggi in bulk. It costs Rs 27 for three noodle cakes, which are filling enough for us and the two kids. This works out cheaper than home-made meals, which are beyond our means now,” said Nathulal, a daily wage earner from Jogeshwari. He says he plans to experiment with the atta and multi-grain variants of the product for variety, since even those work out cheaper than regular meals.
When confronted with the alarming realization that India’s future citizens are growing up on a diet of junk food, Congress spokesperson Raj Babbar promptly defended an earlier remark. “If you consider Nathulal’s testimony, it means they’re paying roughly Rs 7 per person per meal (of Maggi). Now tell me, wasn’t I correct in pointing out that Rs 12 per meal would suffice!” he thundered.
While the poor continue to starve, Nestle has sensed business opportunity in the current scenario, and has started manufacturing ‘family packs’ in Maggi. The company has also applied for Maggi to be included in the ration-list of products handed out by the government to BPL and APL citizens.
“If you consider the present prices of kitchen essentials, Maggi is more humble than wheat, sugar and most vegetables. In the interest of the poor, we feel the government should hand out Maggi family packs to save India from dying of hunger,” the company’s COO told the press earlier today.