NO other beverage taps into my memories of childhood more than Milo. Remember the Milo van that distributed thick, cold chocolate in tiny paper cups on sports day? Remember “Minum Milo, anda jadi, sihat dan kuat!” (Drink Milo, you will become healthy and strong)?
The drink is such a part of local life that it’s easy to forget it is produced not by a local company but a Swiss one. Nestlé, however, produces so many food products that are ubiquitous in Malaysian lives – think Maggi and Nescafe alongside Milo – it’s almost an honorary local company.
But it is, in reality, a globe-straddling entity – Nestlé is the world’s largest food and beverage company, producing beverages, milk products (including ice-cream), nutritional products (baby formula and energy bars), culinary products (noodles, pasta, pizza, soups and sauces), chocolate and confectionery, and pet food
The staggering variety of products has much to do with the fact that Nestlé is also one of the global leaders in food science research and development (R&D). Last year alone, it invested RM2bil in its R&D efforts.
The company’s R&D structure is organised into a global network that includes a main research centre in Lausanne, Switzerland; seven product technology centres responsible for developing new products and manufacturing processes around the world; regional R&D centres; and application groups located in each of its 500 factories worldwide.
Recently, several Malaysian journalists were invited to visit Nestlé’s regional R&D centre in Singapore. Established in 1982, the centre comprises a pilot plant, experimental kitchen, packaging laboratories, sensory evaluation facilities, equipment appraisal rooms, and a quality assurance centre.
Its role is to develop new Asian culinary and nutritional food products as well as to facilitate expansion of the food services sector, where there’s a growing demand for commercial consumption.
Today, it serves as the regional R&D centre for Japan, India, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Thailand. It also provides support to South Africa and the Middle East for products where it has unique competencies, such as halal ones.
In fact, Nestlé was the first multinational food company in Malaysia to have all its products certified halal by the religious authorities when certification was first introduced in 1997.
Apart from getting the ingredients right, processing and packaging methods are important considerations as well. For example, how to keep a biscuit or wafer crispy, how to achieve the smooth texture of ice cream, how to make sure powdered products reconstitute easily in water, run freely in dispensing machines and do not become lumpy in storage.
According to the Singapore R&D centre’s managing director, Thomas Hauser, the island nation was chosen as the site for a regional research centre because of its strategic location, ideal infrastructure and vibrant commercial environment.
“Singapore’s location puts it in the middle of a South-East Asian market of 500 million people, and an Asian market of 2.8 billion. These are emerging and fast growing markets with an enormous appetite for consumer goods and innovative products, and in need of a wide range of services,” he says.
Hauser added: “In the past, consumers were looking for food products that were both tasty and convenient. Today, they are also concerned about the nutritional content and the health benefits of the food they’re consuming.”
As its motto, “Good food, good life” suggests, Nestlé wants to be more than just a food company. It aims to be a food, nutrition, health and wellness company.
Nestlé (Malaysia) Bhd group corporate affairs manager, Tengku Marina Tunku Annuar Badlishah, explains: “The demand for nutritious foods that are also tasty is on the increase. Nowadays, the health-conscious consumer is shopping for food with less fat, sugar and salt. At Nestlé, we are constantly trying to improve on the nutritional profile of our products.
“We’re not saying that Maggi instant noodles are a substitute for a balanced meal, it’s something you eat for a snack. But we make an effort to make even that snack more nutritious. For example, we have introduced Maggi Atta vegetable noodles (made of whole wheat), Maggi stock with no added MSG, and Nestlé Omega Plus milk with cholesterol-lowering plant sterols, while Nesvita and the Nestum cereal drink and cereal bars are examples of products with taste and health benefits.”
According to Tengku Marina, the company puts a product through various stages of deliberation before they deliver it into the marketplace.
“A lot of time and effort goes into developing a product, from the type of ingredients used and appropriate cooking methods to shelf life and proper packaging.
“The marketing team also visits households to find out how a product is prepared and the packaging preferences of consumers. Sometimes, it takes two years to develop a single product.
“Based on consumer insights, we have to innovate and renovate products to ensure they meet consumer expectation. One example of innovation was when we launched the Nescafe “3-in-1” coffee mixes and offered consumers a choice of rich, regular or mild flavours to cater to varied tastes.
“By renovating, we mean developing value-added products. For instance, Nestlé Malaysia/Singapore launched a new range of Milo products known as Milo Fuze that offers consumers two choices: Milo with cereals and high calcium or the regular Milo with Actigen E (for energy release),” she explained.
The centre also tries to sort out different taste preferences that different regions have, Tengku Marina added.
“Taste profiles may differ from country to country.
“Maggi Mee curry flavour may be spicy for the local market but if it is exported to Western countries, the spiciness may be toned down.
“The locally produced Kit Kat may not be as ‘creamy’ compared with those in Britain or Australia. Because of our tropical climate, we use less butter to prevent the chocolate from melting too easily.”
Well, the company have certainly sorted out what Malaysians like when it comes to Milo: it seems that “Malaysia records the highest per capita consumption of Milo in the world”. Sihat dan kuat, indeed?.