The hiccups experienced by the cold supply chain due to the pandemic raised concerns on the food security of India. A robust cold chain infrastructure holds immense potential to strengthen supply and storage of perishables to suffice the country’s population. The pandemic also certainly brought healthcare into focus. The crisis provided much required recognition to time and temp-sensitive logistics involving delivery and distribution of pharmaceuticals. More control over the cold chain is imperative to reduce losses and maintain product quality within the life sciences segment. All in all, the pandemic has in a way revolutionised India’s cold chain sector and opened plethora of opportunities to invest and explore. The entire value chain starting from LSPs, airports, technology and packaging services firm, are stepping up to offer accuracy, speed, cost-efficiency, consistency, and impeccable customer experience.

Upamanyu Borah

India’s cold chain logistics industry is notorious for being limited and underdeveloped due to both the size of the country as well as technological hindrances, which has led to severe challenges getting food products and fresh produce.

While production of perishables has increased consistently in the past five years, cold chain sector potential remains untapped due to the high share of single commodity storage and soaring investment for land and refrigerator units.

Additionally, the lack of necessary enabling infrastructure, inadequate awareness for handling perishable goods, and lapses in service by storage and transportation providers leading to inferior quality goods, have impacted demand.

In current times, for transporting and storing temperature-sensitive products refrigerated storage has become an integral part of the supply chain. Proximity to population centres, population growth, changing consumer preferences and consumer spending are the primary drivers for cold chains.

Growth in organised retail, food processing industry, pharmaceutical sector and government initiatives including Scheme for Cold Chain & Value Addition Infrastructure, Pradhan Mantri Kisan Sampada Yojana (PMKSY), and Backward & Forward Linkages have encouraged more investments in the segment of the cold chain.

Cold chain forms the storage backbone of the pharmaceutical industry, which is highly susceptible to temperature and time requirements. India caters to over 50% of global demand for various vaccines, 40% of generic drugs demand in the USA, and 25% of all medicines in the UK, and the sector is expected to rapidly grow by 2025.

Increased profitability has encouraged new operators to enter the market. Global and domestic investors that are new to the cold chains but versed in supply chain asset investments are beginning to show interest in the sector. Rising demand from the market and the adoption of cost-cutting technological advancements have caused profit margins in the cold chains logistics industry to expand over the past five years.

Cold chain segment in the logistics sector is expected to grow at over 20% compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) by 2025 owing to its transformation from conventional cold storage to modern storage space, said JLL India in a report released in May.

The estimates are based on the sector’s performance over the past few months, where despite the post-COVID economic impediments; the organised cold chain segment has seen significant growth in country-wide footprint.

According to JLL, there is an opportunity for organised cold storage and palettized cold storage in tier I cities like Mumbai, Delhi-National Capital Region, Bangalore, Chennai, Pune, Kolkata, Hyderabad as well as tier II cities like Lucknow, Kanpur, Ranchi, Patna, Bhubaneswar, Goa, Aurangabad, Ahmedabad, Kochi, and Coimbatore.

An additional 1.5 lakh to 2 lakh pallet capacity (frozen and chilled) is likely to be added as part of temperature-controlled storage space in the next two to three years.

The Inescapable Front

When COVID-19 first hit, the news was full of stories of sold out food and supplies as consumers clamored to stockpile necessities. And while it may have seemed that rising consumer demand was the reason for these sudden shortages, it soon became clear that the supply chain was really to blame.

“The pandemic has, without any scope of denial, made most, safe to say all the industries realise that supply chain and logistics are too critical to be worked upon and structured at the foundation level. We, the cold chain have seen so many evident gaps that needed to be bridged,” says Kiran Gubba, CEO and Director, Gubba Cold Storage.

“Suppliers of food and pharmaceutical products heavily rely on the cold chain to ensure shipment doesn’t become compromised before they reach the market. They always want to streamline their cold chain management yet that may not be their forte. We have come to realise that with issues like restrictions on manpower, travel time, etc calls for the need in upgradation of equipment and logistics. They are to become more automated.”

Rajesh Agarwal, Managing Director, Crystal Group couldn’t agree more. “Yes, the pandemic has reminded us of how crucial the supply chain and logistics is for any country in the time of crisis. If we talk only about India, though the demand supply cycle dismantled due to the nationwide lockdown, vaccine storage and distribution through cold chains increased remarkably, as the pharmaceutical sector grew, almost 12% CAGR post-pandemic.”

Agarwal feels the growth will continue in future as well. Yet, he knows there are many aspects to be improved, “such as selecting global standard cooling systems, reducing transit time, aligning with sustainability, etc.”

Undeniably, the cold supply chain was long overdue for an overhaul. While there is technology in place to help add efficiencies along the chain, recent fracturing in the flow of products has shed light on where the major vulnerabilities lie in existing systems.

“Amongst the many lessons the pandemic has taught us, the most important, while acknowledged, but lesser implemented is Contingency Planning. Today, one of the key questions debated in the boardrooms is, how to ensure uninterrupted supply to the market during crises and other emergencies,” Sunil Nair, CEO and Whole-time Director, Snowman Logistics.

“The last 18 months has taught us that cold chain is not an ancillary service but an essential. It is imperative to have the right policies and processes and build infrastructure around the same.”

“With zero touch last-mile delivery becoming critical, companies are brainstorming on how to solve this. Furthermore, the use of innovative evaporative, reactive cooling technology that responds and adjusts to fluctuating temperatures is something that cold chain companies are toying with,” Nair informs.

India’s cold chain sector is still at a nascent stage. This is something that continues to hold relevance as a hot topic of discussion by the wider industry bodies and making the rounds in the tabloids. But, the collective global cold supply chain disruption makes it clear that the time to bring efficiency and transparency is now or never.

“Investment in the cold chain remains one of the most effective ways to ensure the reliable and safe movement of food and pharmaceutical products during a pandemic, and in adapting to a post-pandemic world,” adds Pankaj Mehta, Managing Director at Carrier Transicold India and South Asia.

“India is the world leading producer of several agri-products, but we also have high wastage.”

“The cold chain will play a pivotal role in establishing food security in India and around the world, while opening a plethora of opportunities to farmers and various stakeholders in the agriculture value chain.”

“The trends that surfaced within the cold chain during the pandemic are a testament to how companies could acclimatise, pivot strategies, and snappily find results to keep the essential chains running. Earlier, cold-chain or supply chain was considered a cost head. This has changed now,” observes Samit Jain, Managing Director, Pluss Advanced Technologies.

“With this change in outlook, investment in cold chain storage and transportation is a top agenda. The industry should now mainstream the learnings from the pandemic, continue to innovate and look at how to bring costs under control. A focus on reducing the costs will be the key for the sector to remain vibrant.”

Raaj Jobanputra has over the years seen how supply chains have intertwined with India’s growth trajectory. And it now needs a sharply targeted approach.

“Cold chain has gained more momentum and will continue to be a vibrant sector. During the lockdowns, not only the packed restaurant food delivered to homes increased manifold, sales of ready-to-eat or heat-and-eat ranges of various frozen food products have also seen a rise. This trend is now going to stay, and coupled with investments and new entrants, heralds the growth-path of a more sustainable and integrated cold chain,” says the Director of JWL Cold Store.

“After the initial jolt of lockdown, the retail sector has definitely bounced back more aggressively,” Nair informs. “We see some tweaking in the business models across organisations, wherein the focus on online/home delivery has increased, and hence, the investments and expansions are getting structured accordingly.”

Several catalysts, according to Jain, will fuel the expansion within the cold chain sector. “The pandemic has created many food category demand shifts, with the foremost being a shift from high-end gourmet specialty food products related to travel, restaurants and entertainment business, to retail packaged frozen and perishable products. The growth in demand for cold chain logistics and refrigerated items will continue to thrive and modern technology will expand its critical role in visibility, monitoring and compliance going forward.”

“COVID-19 has led to a drastic shift in consumer demand away from restaurants, food service towards food consumed at home, giving a sudden boost to food supply chain operators. This resulted in substantial investments in the retail food sector due to heavy demand for ‘home delivered’ food products as estimated around 50-60%,” Agarwal notes. “At the same time, vaccines storage and distribution in India played a major role in rejuvenating the cold chain industry across the country,” he adds.

“However, as vaccine storage and distribution is a critical task, the cold chain solution industry had to go under massive improvement in terms of quality, temperature control, technology advancement, safety and rapidity. This developed the overall service level in cold chains, not only in India but across the globe. It made the industry more coordinated and organised. I feel the cold chain industry will see further growth in coming months and renewed push for better sales in the longer term.”

As we continue to witness what’s happening in just a few months in what, otherwise, would have happened over a decade, COVID-19 has clearly proved to be a catalyst for necessary change. The impact of the trends and outcomes are far-reaching and transformational enough.

“Indeed. This phase definitely looks like a hope for organisations to become more organised and consolidated,” expresses Gubba. “We have learnt to be proactive rather than reactive. We have witnessed investments in the retail food sector; however, focus has to be more on the research and development side.”

“As we saw, the consumption of frozen foods hiked up drastically during COVID times. It did break the myth of frozen food being not so nutritious. However, this fact has to be believed in consistently. A lot more of awareness needs to be spread,” he puts across.

Ready for a Makeover: What’s within T&L?

The increasing demand for refrigerated goods has also had a ripple effect on the companies that transport those products worldwide. Temperature-controlled transportation businesses are today being encouraged to innovate in order to keep pace with the ever-changing needs of the chilled market.

After evaluating the reports of a recent global survey, what we found out was that Shippers and 3PLs differ on some of the greatest challenges the sector faces. For Shippers, the proper handling of cold chain products was seen as being more difficult than anything else. For 3PLs, investing in a cold chain infrastructure and maintaining that infrastructure, as well as temperature monitoring were the key challenges.

Regulatory compliance is also top concern for shippers. That makes visibility and traceability important technological features associated with cold chain services. “Through visibility and traceability,” the report explains, “logistics providers can maintain a chain of custody as well as temperature monitoring to ensure the safety of temperature-controlled products. This also helps shippers comply with regulatory requirements, for instance the Food Safety and Standards Regulations within the Indian market, and government-mandated record keeping.”

The report goes on to point out that “global population growth, increased consumer demand for fresh products, strong grocery e-commerce sales and a wider variety of perishables are driving the need for cold storage space. Demand for cold chain services is so high that finding available, cost-effective services is difficult. There is increased demand for services that are more specialised.”

Use of effective cold chain solutions was never considered a priority until a pandemic of such a scale hit us. Specific to India, as the country grappled with one-of-a-kind challenge of producing enough vaccines to inoculate every Indian, ensuring delivery of the same without spoilage happened to be a daunting challenge.

The prospects were further spiked by increasing consumer awareness and the need to comply with basic quality standards.

Traditionally, cold chain in India has relied predominantly on diesel run refrigerated vehicle solutions. These cooling solutions for cold chain distribution require a continuous power source from a vehicle and runs on diesel, making them very expensive for smaller package sizes. Given the large costs incurred in transportation, conventional solutions remained unviable for most stakeholders forcing them to break the cold chain or use unproven “Jugaad”, especially towards consumer/retail end of the chain. This severely impacts product quality and spoils customer experience.

Also, unlike most developed countries, cold chain in India has been restricted to secondary and tertiary distribution segments – for movement of goods from factories to CFAs and from there to distributors. This meant that most of the last-mile delivery was either done in ambient conditions or with unsafe, unsustainable solutions resulting in product spoilage and wastage.

However, today with advanced Phase Change Material (PCM) based solutions, these issues are getting resolved. PCM can provide desired temperature control (from -250C to +250C) across enclosures ranging from a 5 litre bag to a 20 feet (10 ton) truck, enabling most manufacturers and transporters to ensure the cold chain is not broken.

Pluss, through use of ‘phase change materials’ and customised temperature control solutions, have taken a lead in serving the needs of the food e-commerce and delivery segment. For instance, Pluss have created products like passive refrigeration solutions for trucks to eliminate the use of diesel for air conditioning the cargo. The refrigeration system is charged with electricity. This enables last-mile connectivity for bulk movement, with energy-free refrigeration. The trucks run on CNG or li-ion batteries, making a very attractive proposition, given the high cost of diesel today. For small volume last-mile delivery, Pluss have validated products like PronGO® which can maintain temperature for up to 48 hours for frozen and chilled food delivery. Further, Pluss’ Celsure® product range for temperature control in pharmaceuticals precisely maintains temperatures for up to 120 hours during transport.

The delivery segment is poised to become more organised and united, and Jain says they are already seeing a lot of consolidation in the segment. “When we talk about infrastructure, continuous innovation is needed to produce cost and energy effective products. One of our products Aagun™reduces the dependency on cold chain. This is a ‘phase change material’ based integrated dryer which offers 24×7 consistent drying. This allows some products to be dried and transported, thus increasing shelf life. We have also enabled 24×7 solar cold rooms that store the cold energy generated during the day for use at night.”

Jain has witnessed in the last two to three years, how several startups have established themselves to provide food delivery. “It is important for the different players to collaborate and share resources and learnings to make the system cost-effective, and also educate the farmers as well as end consumers. The ones with great technology and user experience will thrive in the longer run,” he says.

Gubba Cold Storage has installed live temperature indicators outside every chamber of their facility to monitor temperature in real-time. Clients have access to check up on the stock and temperature at any given point of time through Gubba App from the convenience of their smart phone. The company has also installed WiFi- and USB-based 21-CFR temperature data loggers.

“Of course, transport and infrastructure is the life of preserving food. Minute temperature fluctuation or non-maintenance of apt relative humidity can cause more damage than one can imagine. Coming to logistics, we have started using our own temperature-controlled reefer trucks to ensure the quality of products is maintained and taken utmost care of during the last-mile delivery,” Gubba adds.

As the food industry attempts to streamline it supply chains in new, ever-changing market environments, new technology and tools will play an increasingly important role in fixing the fragmented system. As farmers, distributors, producers, CPG companies and retailers navigate fluctuating conditions and weak links in the supply chain, having the right technology in place can provide resiliency, integration, transparency and efficiency.

“India’s food processing sector is one of the largest in the world. With the government also placing emphasis on food safety, cold chain infrastructure is all the more important for food processing industries. What is impressive to see is that the current infrastructure is transforming itself towards adaptation to a more scientific approach. Digitalisation and new technologies are streamlining the processes,” highlights Jobanputra.

“The Indian cold chain landscape is witnessing a significant paradigm shift as the government has unveiled various measures to bridge the cold chain gap in the country. Cold chain acceptance has also trickled down to tier II and III towns and cities which will further bolster growth. Not to question, the two main sectors where the cold chain can play a pivotal role are pharmaceuticals and agriculture. The cold chain will have to pivot in establishing food security in India, thus opening a plethora of opportunities to farmers and various stakeholders in the agriculture value chain,” asserts Mehta.

Carrier Transicold has been working with various stakeholders in the cold chain and educating them on the benefits. To clear the perception that the cold chain is complicated and too expensive for small-holder farms, Transicold recently conducted a demonstration on the “impact of the cold chain on the Kinnow fruit” from Punjab to Bengaluru.

The study demonstrated that investment in refrigeration pre-cooling equipment and refrigerated trucks can reduce food loss by 76% while increasing profit margins up to 23%.

“Having an infrastructure and utilising it properly are two different things,” maintains Agarwal. “The Indian cold chain sector is still at a developing stage. For any country, quality cold storage warehouses, or refrigerated transportation are the primary necessities of the food processing industry. India sees significant wastage through post-harvest losses due to the lack of an adequate and efficient cold chain infrastructure. The loss count for this year was around US$13.16 billion.”

“I think we still need to do vast improvements in this area. Maximising the cold chain infrastructure and utilising the existing infrastructure at optimum level can help us reduce the losses and grow the sector at a generous rate.”

“There have been major expansions in the cold chain industry over the last five years, both in warehousing and transportation. The good part is that all these infrastructures are almost 80% utilised today,” Nair says.

“What is critical is to understand that this sector operates with almost 80% regulated costs which are diesel, electricity, minimum wages, etc. Hence, there is very limited scope for cost optimisation once the facility is set up,” he went on to inform.

According to Nair, this demands price corrections by customers to take care of the inflation in these costs which have been challenging due to COVID and the resultant impact on customer businesses. “The ever-increasing diesel price has also put transporters in a grim situation.”

Cold-ful Innovations

The cold distribution market is finding innovative ways to keep up with the changing demands of consumers and retailers. With shipping and transport companies alike preparing themselves for further growth in the distribution of refrigerated products, the sector remains buoyant. Such developments should help the refrigerated transport industry shake its “archaic” reputation and become as advanced as the cold store facilities that serve the industry.

With increased data coverage and comprehensive information, cold chain industry vendors can make more informed decisions, better manage their product flows with greater visibility and speed across their supply chains. By automating data collection in supply chains, supplier and customer data can be made smarter through the use of AI and ML to integrate product data from various sources, both within and beyond a company.

Crystal Logistic (Cool Chain) has a strong focus on quality cold chain solutions that has helped the company to sustain in the competitive market during pandemic. The company has been growing with 100% utilisation of its cold storage facilities. “Factors like growing retail and e-commerce market, world’s largest vaccination drive, end-to-end cold chain requirements, Make In India movement, and shortage of containers have contributed to strategise the company’s business towards success,” Agarwal expresses.

“Our core business values, i.e. “Quality, Service, and Integrity” differentiate us from others. We are a complete cold chain solutions company providing end-to-end cold chain solutions, catering to more than 20 states across the country, utilising refrigerated containers and temperature-controlled warehouses for distribution to the last-mile through reefer trucks. We have 4 cold storages at strategic locations – Kolkata, Visakhapatnam, Bhubaneswar, and Indore with total capacity of around 50,000 pallets,” he adds.

“We are also specialised in installing large customised portable cold storage solutions at the clients’ site. Our 24×7 service and maintenance team makes it easy to resolve any post service issue at the customer’s end.”

India’s substantial vaccine production and largest vaccination drive led Crystal to procure our newly launched portable cold storage SUPER FREEZER to store critical pharma cargo at the temperature as low as -70°C.

Agarwal says they are currently expanding their base in tier II and III cities by increasing channel partners for fastest service. “Being a smart solution company, we are focussing upon technological advancement in our cold chain solutions while keeping sustainability in mind. I feel that by 2025, Crystal Group will emerge as India’s only smart cold chain company.”

With the vision and determination to serve the healthcare and FMCG industries, JWL Cold Store has specially designed dedicated pharma and food divisions – JWL Pharma Hub with 16,500 pallet capacity and JWL Food Hub with 14,500 pallet capacity. Both facilities are FSSAI and FDA approved, ISO and GDP certified.

“In spite of the lockdown-induced restrictions, we have worked hard for our existing customers and opened our hands to all the available opportunities. It is the world class infrastructure that we have set up with a dedicated workforce to serve the customers coupled with our readiness to embrace the new technologies have helped in contributing to our growth,” Jobanputra says.

“Two-three different storage conditions are required in pharmaceuticals, while food segment requires storage conditions under five temperature zones. Slightest deviation in temperature is not acceptable in both segments. As such, we have created exclusive facilities for both segments, besides considering the cross-contamination possibilities. We are privileged to be associated with varieties of happy customers across both pharma and food segments,” he adds.

“By leveraging the resources and innovative solutions, we contribute to the overall objective of shared value chain. Our Infrastructure is developed keeping the value additions required for our customers and constantly strive to develop more assets and bring the services under one umbrella.”

“At present, our facilities are built to maintain temperatures between -250C to +300C. We are exploring further opportunities to create specialised facilities to store highly-sensitive vacancies at temperatures as low as -800C,” he further went to inform.

According to Jobanputra, there is demand for storing of vaccines, but more importantly, the requirement of transporting vaccines is widespread across country. “The need of the hour is to distribute vaccines rather than storing. Hence, the impact felt more in transportation and distribution legs of the cold chain rather than storage. The way the government is committed to vaccinate all, and storage of vaccines not being a long-term regular requirement, setting up of more infrastructure on this front may not be felt. But the demand is certainly going to increase.”

“The indispensability of this sector in the future and the tax and duty exemptions by government has caught the sentiments of stakeholders. This presents a significant investment potential in setting up cold chain infrastructure post-COVID,” Jobanputra explains.

Undoubtedly, Nair says, vaccine distribution is the topmost priority of the nation today. “I don’t think there is any shortage of capacity for vaccines. It is important to understand that vaccine is a high-velocity product. It will never be stored in abundance.  And hence, it won’t need much space for storage.  Once produced, it is transported to the market ASAP. I don’t see any major impact of vaccines in capacity constraints.”

“There are good investments coming up in cold chain. The industry is preparing itself for the huge volume growth that is expected in the coming years, even without COVID vaccines.”

Snowman is topping the chart when it comes to integrated cold chain temperature-controlled logistics. The service provider has been continuously investing in technology and building more and more capacity. Most recently, Snowman opened up a multi-temperature facility with total capacity of 4032 pallet positions. It is designed to store products ranging from – ambient temperature to -250C with 8 chambers, 5 loading bays complemented by related infrastructure that includes G+5 racking system, modern handling equipment, etc. and ample refrigerated truck parking space.

“During the pandemic, what worked for us is the design of our facilities, our standards and processes of hygiene and sanitation – personnel and facility, our strong IT systems, and above all the positive attitude of our team. This is one time when we could demonstrate our resilience and ownership to our customers. Yes, we had to overspend to ensure safe operations at the facility, but we are happy that we could contribute our bit to customers’ business,” Nair says.

“All our cold storages are multi-purpose and multiple-product.  We can store products ranging from -250C to +250C. All our facilities have multiple chambers within them, and we can set the desired temperature in each chamber, thus offering complete flexibility. Besides, rooftop solar units have been installed across all our facilities, which add to energy efficiency into our facility’s operations.”

“Within our fleet of 265 trucks, we have 40 multi-temperature trucks which can carry Frozen, Chilled, and Dry products together.”

Through the SnowLink technology platform, Snowman has been progressing well in its transport aggregation model. This is helping the specialist to offer end-to-end services to an additional set of customers.

“Our end-to-end offerings – IT solutions and complete distribution visibility, differentiates us from others. Our national footprint helps our customers in quick scalability and reach faster to multiple markets,” Nair adds.

“We are currently present in 16 cities.  In a couple of months, we’ll be operational in one more city. With this reach, we now deliver products to almost 500 locations across nook and corners of the country.  But this is not sufficient. We need to add more capacity in almost 10 existing locations which are close to 100% utilised. Also, we need to be present in more cities for better delivery cycles.  Food and Pharma need to be delivered to customers at least lead time. Being close to the consumption centres is a must,” he went to inform.

Understanding the incredibly different needs of the market, Snowman have built an e-commerce backend (fulfilment centre) for food and grocery in Mumbai – a 54,000 sq ft warehouse with freezer, chiller, ambient storage with various value add solutions, viz. sorting, grading, packing, labeling, etc. Another e-commerce facility is under construction at Pune.

Carrier Transicold products played an important role during the global health crisis to help ensure critical COVID vaccines and pharmaceutical products reach their respective locations in the best condition. The company’s truck refrigeration solutions have aided interstate and local vaccine distribution across India from vaccine production centres to distribution points in tier II and III cities and towns.

Over the past few years, Carrier Transicold has launched several India-specific product extensions in the Supra® and Oasis® offerings for large trucks. The units are designed to provide strong, reliable performance in hot, dusty ambient conditions and offer superior pull down and cooling efficiency.

For last-mile distribution using refrigerated small vans, Carrier Transicold introduced several models of the Citimax™ series for chilled and frozen applications. The streamlined design has very few serviceable parts helping to reduce repair and maintenance, resulting in low overall operating costs.

“With critical products continually on the move, Carrier transicold dealers, strategically positioned on national highways offer 24×7 support to customer fleets across a pan-India network of more than 65 service centres to keep the trucks running on the road. We continue to be the preferred suppliers of truck refrigeration systems due to a large and reliable service network as well as an experienced and customer-focussed team,” Mehta enlightens.

IoT also plays an important role in providing end-to-end visibility within the cold chain ecosystem. Data transparency and traceability ensures product quality and process efficiency. As such, Transicold’s Lynx™ Fleet digital solutions empower customers to remotely monitor and control refrigeration units and help track their consignments with a strict watch over temperature integrity.

“With 25 years of market expertise and experience in the sector, we are well-positioned to understand segment needs and meet requirements with technologically superior refrigeration products. Additionally, we are part of the CII Task Force on Cold Chain Development as well as a life member of the National Center for Cold Chain Development and continues to undertake initiatives to establish a robust cold chain in India,” Mehta says.

“The need for safe and sustainable cold chain technologies to preserve and protect the supply of food, medicine and vaccines around the world has never been greater. In support of this critical need, Transicold launched the Healthy, Safe, Sustainable Cold Chain Programme – designed to help customers meet rapidly evolving supply chain demands and make their cold chain activities more effective.”

“We operate at the nexus of climate, digital and environmental technology and sustainability – and we will be at the forefront of defining the next era of the healthy, safe, sustainable and intelligent cold chain.”

Gubba Cold Storage not only emphasises on offering effective storage sheds but also provides clients with leading-edge technology and is skilled with the latest advancements. “We are a step ahead in competency. We provide clients with automated reports. Our inbuilt ERP app gives clients the accessibility to check the temperature of their product preservation in a just click of their smart phone. Authenticity, Reliability, Quality of Service, International Certifications, and Trust are key differentiating factors Gubba has built worldwide,” says Gubba.

“Our strength is purely built on investments on our resources towards research, technology, and high-end infrastructure. Our 18 cold storage facilities are designed by a highly committed and professional Gubba Cold Infra team. Across every facility that we have set up, we ensure our heart goes into preserving products with utmost care. We stand in the shoes of our clients to present them with what’s needed,” he asserts.

Gubba Cold Storage continues to sets sight on being the figurehead by providing world-class facility in preservation of what makes and more importantly sustains life – seed and pharma by hiking the standard of innovation and technology to a whole new level.

“Understanding customer’s vision and setting forth customer satisfaction has and will always continue to be our precedence. We are looking forward to enter into the US and Singapore markets to serve their pharma and seed industries and establish a biotechnology lab in South Asia (apart from India) with trust and passion in preservation, being one of the most reliable quality partner.”

As a technology organisation, Pluss have been continuously innovating to fulfil the demands of the industry by providing customised solutions for temperature control shipments. During the pandemic, the one aspect that grew exponentially was online delivery of various items – grocery, chocolates, ice-creams, frozen meat, etc. Being pioneers in ‘phase change materials’ used in maintaining the cool chain, Pluss was able to cater to the requirement of the market.

“Overall, the industry and consumer have become more aware about importance of cold chain, and we see this impacting our business positively,” Jain remarks.

“Pluss has always believed in making a strong bond between social progress and business success. We have actively developed and worked on products for the upliftment of farmers. We are also working at the grassroots level to create entrepreneur opportunities for groups to enable them to operate cold-chain as an enterprise and provide shared service to all the stakeholders.”

“We plan to partner with logistics companies and warehousing partners to be able to provide ‘phase chain materials’ based cold-chain solutions nationwide. We will also be working to sensitise the consumer and user on the limitations with the traditional thermocol and gel packs in use. We believe we can move to cold chain as a service model, to reduce waste and use resources more meaningfully. This needs to evolve over time and will require the commitment of industries to work together,” Jain continues.

Importantly, with the help of its benchmarking PronGO® solution, Pluss, Jain says will look to achieve 4 key objectives:

  • Replace: PronGO® will replace one time use solutions used in the temperature control supply chain. This will provide the end customer with quality products, and the producer will have the advantage of providing quality products at the right temperature. With the help of the PronGO® solution, proper temperature for horticulture and dairy produce will be maintained for longer duration.
  • Reuse: PronGO®solutions are reusable for around 3 years.
  • Recycle: PronGO®can be recycled easily at the end of its lifecycle. This will also significantly reduce the addition of plastics in the environment.
  • Reduce: PronGO® solution will reduce the one time use of EPS and gel packs, thus drastically reducing wastage.

The new Ice Age for Airport Cargo

Airports – an important node in the supply chain, acting as the interface point between the air and surface transport modes – have also taken a more central role in the value chain. Today, airports have information in real-time, the capability to integrate shipments from different parts of the world and consolidate any type of cargo. They’ve made it possible to clear goods as fast as possible. Most importantly, airports has ramped up cargo capabilities by inducting unique Unit Load Devices (ULDs) cool dollies to maintain unbroken cold chain for time and temperature sensitive shipments, purely pharmaceuticals and perishables. Even Indian airports are utilising and bringing together data analytics and information to help the supply chain to focus on potential pinch points, training needs, safety and security, as well as supplier and risk management, and most importantly, quality.

“The pandemic period and the resulting lockdowns/restrictions that disrupted most other modes of transportation meanwhile highlighted the importance of air transportation as the most reliable mode. There is an increasing awareness and reliance upon air cargo, which has helped sustain and grow the cargo volumes despite the challenging overall situation,” affirms Pradeep Panicker, Chief Executive Officer at GMR Hyderabad International Airport Ltd.

Key elements of the temperature-controlled infrastructure at GMR Hyderabad Air Cargo (GHAC) are all being expanded in terms of both capacities as well as capabilities. GHAC has expanded the capacity of ‘Pharma Zone’ – India’s first dedicated pharma cargo export terminal and introduced a unique temperature-controlled ‘Cool Dolly’ to safely transport shipments from terminal to the aircraft. Additionally, GHAC has increased capacities of all temperature zones, viz. 15 to 250C, 2 to 80C and -200C. It has also introduced ‘Cold Super Store’ as part of the extended pharma zone to mitigate any temperature excursions during unloading of pharma shipments. Furthermore, GHAC is gearing up towards technology enhancements and recently integrated vaccine ledger, a next-gen Blockchain solution to deliver enhanced track-and-trace solution and real-time monitoring of vaccine shipments. Together, these initiatives have enabled GHAC to offer an unparalleled and truly unbroken cold chain for vaccines, pharmaceuticals and perishables from truck offloading point till aircraft loading.

“As the premier hub for handling pharmaceuticals and vaccines in the South Asia region, GHAC has specialised infrastructure and facilities including the country’s first dedicated ‘Pharma Zone’, a dedicated export terminal catering exclusively to pharma and vaccine handling, with end-to-end temperature-controlled facilities certified to WHO-GDP standards. The entire export processing zone has been converted into a temperature-controlled facility that assures safe handling of all export consignments irrespective of weather or other external factors,” informs Panicker.

“Our efforts to ramp up infrastructure facilities for capacity increase have been a constant endeavour with prime focus on increased movements of pharmaceuticals, vaccines and other materials. We will continue to work in that direction to meet the market demand and will invest in technology to enable higher efficiencies and improved customer experience.”

“The pandemic has forced players across the value chain to step up investments on their cold chain logistics, in some cases prioritising resilience and availability, over efficiency and costs. Sooner, we can expect a degree of consolidation driven by the need to optimise costs and rationalise capacity across the market,” Panicker adds.

As India’s food processing industry develops and matures further, Panicker firmly believes the transport and infrastructure aspects will need continued investments and focus to deliver higher quality solutions to the food processing industry customers, and GHAC is aligned to the broader industry vision.

GHAC is said to be developing a dedicated ‘Cooltainer Yard’ which will be India’s largest on-airport hub to store, service and manage active and passive temperature-controlled containers, with a capacity to hold up to 250 containers at any point in time.

Under the challenging pandemic environment, Bengaluru Airport has been registering record tonnage month-on-month with international cargo (both imports and exports) continuing to be the growth drivers.

Key factors that have led to this growth include a conducive geographic location with easy access to manufacturing hubs in South India, adequate airline capacities to service key sectors across the globe and world-class cargo infrastructure, operated by Air India SATS (AISATS) and Menzies Aviation Bobba (Bangalore).

“Our vision is to make BLR Airport a flourishing cargo hub by providing state-of-the-art infrastructure, equipped with cutting-edge technology and facilities. We are rightly distinguished in terms of infrastructure, the quality of our terminals and terminal operators, and automation,”says Satyaki Raghunath, Chief Strategy and Development Officer at Bangalore International Airport Ltd (BIAL).

“We currently have adequate capacity for vaccine storage distribution, and we would be expanding our capacity from 60,000 MT to 80,000 MT over the next few years. Recently, we invested in an express cargo terminal, which is India’s first dedicated facility, adding about 200,000 sq ft of capacity,” he informs.

“We have a dedicated cold zone AISATS Coolport – with the capacity to handle 40,000 MT per annum and temperature zones ranging from -250C to +250C under the same roof. Menzies Aviation Bobba (Bangalore) too has a cold zone with capacity of 20,000 MT per annum, and added capability to handle 20 ULD pallets under temperatures 150C to 250C and 2 ULD pallets between 20C to 80C.”

Time always plays a critical part in perishable logistics to ensure that products reach their destination while still offering the same freshness, quality and appeal for consumers. Taking heed of this, BLR has made significant tech-driven interventions to ensure there is no temperature excursion, reduce the handling time and speed up clearance of consignments.

“Our Air Cargo Community System (ACS) has made the air logistics process paperless and further streamlined. Also, a TagBox-developed, Internet of Things (IoT) based solution to monitor temperature-controlled cargo is enabling real-time supply chain visibility. This provides for live monitoring of temperature-sensitive products such as pharmaceutical and perishables, including fruits, vegetables, meat, sea food, dairy products, and flowers.”

According to Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), BLR Airport has processed 48,130 MT of perishables in the Financial Year 2020-21, accounting for 31% of India’s total perishable shipments. In the process, BLR Airport has emerged as the leading airport for exports of perishable shipments, including poultry products and flowers during the same period. It processed 28,182 MT of poultry products and 1,296 MT of flowers.

“Perishable cargo has been one of the major growth drivers for BLR Airport. Our cargo infrastructure, powered with technology, provides rapid distribution of perishable cargo, making BLR Airport the preferred cargo airport in South India,” Satyaki informs.

The current cargo capacity of BLR Airport is 715,000 MT annually, which is the largest cargo processing capacity, with 42% market share in South India and 14% among Indian airports. The airport is now working towards the vision to expand the cargo infrastructure and provide a capacity of approximately 1.5 MMT by mid-2030. “To achieve this, BIAL will continue to develop state-of-the-art infrastructure, introduce market-leading technology, improve operational efficiency, and customer service,” Satyaki adds.

Çelebi Delhi Cargo Terminal Management today transacts close to 600,000 tonnes of cargo, which is almost double of what it used to do a decade ago, before Çelebi took it over in partnership with Delhi International Airport Ltd (DIAL).

Çelebi has made investments of over US$220 million in its decade long presence in India. The company employs close to 6000 Indians at different airports in the country and equips them with world class training. It is currently one of the largest employers in this sector.

From the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Çelebi has been working dedicatedly on preparing proficient handling scenarios for the import and export of various types of vaccines, pharmaceuticals, and medical aid in a safe and efficient way.

The cargo and ground handler is working closely with its customers to understand their specific requirements and more than ready to meet expectations with a state-of-the art Pharmaceutical Logistics Centre spread over 1,200 sq mt area. The centre has a pre-cool facility and four chambers within the range of +15⁰C and -20⁰C and throughput capacity of 72,000 MT annually.

Recently, Çelebi Delhi Cargo Terminal achieved GDP certification for its Exports Pharma Logistics Centre and Pharma Processing Facility for Imports.

“Cold chain is one of the key areas that would be in the spotlight given the fact that world attention to supply and distribution of pharma products is changing. Also, with global warming impact being felt across the world, we are expected to see temperature excursions and incursions, and as a result adjustment would be required in the manner air cargo is handled for temperature sensitive products. The cold chain sector would be required to remodel itself as per the needs of each country, and India itself is going through a massive change,” explains Kamesh Peri, CEO, Çelebi Delhi Cargo Terminal Management.

“The cold chain industry in FY22 is expected to see a growth of 9% in value. This growth would be led by a recovery in segments such as frozen food, meat, and seafood. The pharma segment will continue its growth trajectory aided by COVID-19 vaccine deliveries.”

“Çelebi understands the criticality of cold chain handling services and therefore been working on our processes, keeping customers requirements in mind. Çelebi Delhi Cargo Terminal offers a wide range of cold storage facilities with temperature ranges of +15°C to +25°C, +2°C to +8°C, -4°C to -20°C. We have developed our facilities keeping in mind the growth level of pharma and perishable cargo in the coming years. We have also created flexible cold storage areas for transit vaccines at the airside.”

Peri says India has come a long way. The momentum was built at a time when the airports were being privatised – so the catalyst, whether be it the Greenfield airports at Bangalore and Hyderabad or other big airports like Mumbai and Delhi handed over to the private players. We could see a huge change towards what is being done to improve the infrastructure at airports and bring the whole ecosystem at par with the international standards which is a very important part of the process.

“There’s a sea of change in the airports now – cargo terminals, passenger terminals – the infrastructure has remarkably improved than it was before privatisation. Everything has changed – from appearance, performance, safety and security, customer service, etc. Today, the airport infrastructure of India could very well be classified or categorised as world-class or truly international.”

“The public-private partnership (PPP) model is now an important and excellent initiative as it involves the expertise and drives initiatives in place complemented by government agencies and authorities who make up for an integral part of the airport ecosystem of India. This blend seems to nurture and unlock the growth potential by facilitating the best solutions for airports to go forward after privatisation. That said, we will soon see efficient and prosperous airports outside metro cities as well.”

The Indian cold chain logistics sector, Peri says is expected to grow at over 18% CAGR by 2025 due to its transformation from conventional cold storage to modern storage spaces. The government and stakeholders, he says need to play a major role in terms of simpler compliances and general encouragement to the sector. There has been an initiative from both sides to promote technically sound, energy-efficient, and sustainable cold chain facilities.

“A robust cold chain infrastructure with effective policy support and implementation strategy can go a long way in unprecedented times to ensure cost-effective and constant supply of different goods. Further, the cold chain companies must emphasise on the last-mile and ensure robust IT infrastructure to monitor temperature excursion and control wastage. It would not be wrong to say that the cold chain industry is evolving and becoming more vibrant than ever before.”

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