Creating large scale cold chain hubs for storage and distribution

cold chain

COVID 19 pandemic has created vast business opportunities in the cold chain to create various linkages in terms of storage and distribution for F&B and pharma.

Crystal Logistics, one of the fastest growing service providers in the integrated cold chain solutions. In an interview with TCBU Magazine Akash Agarwal, Managing Director, Crystal Logistics talks about how the pandemic has created vast opportunities for the cold chain sector to deepen its roots and widen its reach to provide accelerated storage and distribution services.


Crystal is more than 50 years old logistics group. How do you look at the transition happened in the field of cold chain logistics?

The transition in cold chain logistics has happened in a big way. If you have started 20 years back in terms of cold chain logistics, the movement of cold chain was not great. It was in a very premature stage and was primarily used for ice cream and butter, or dairy products predominantly. But today we have a couple of other products like QSR, confectionaries, meat, marine, etc. We are expecting to have food factories and parks in the country, which indeed is a boosting factor. So, the industry has evolved in the recent years.


Briefly tell us about your expertise in this domain.

We have been in the cold chain industry for 20 years now, and we understand the entire gamut of primary logistics, warehousing and also the last mile delivery. We understand the business in terms of food, pharma and we expertise in handling the cold chain with our experienced team who have an understanding about the cold chain, and the integrity required to handle the perishable cargo.


How big is your business in terms of geographical presence and cold chain network?

Today, our presence is almost across India, covering all major cities through our reefer transportation. Moreover, we were able to create cold chain warehouses prominently in the coastal areas. We started with Kolkata, and now we are expanding it to Bhubaneshwar and Visakhapatnam. We are also coming up with one in JNPT, and in the north, we are looking to have one in Delhi. In terms of palletised cold storage, we will have pallet capacity of 24000 by 2021.


Some of the major challenges in cold chain industry are lack of expertise, lack of trained manpower, and lack of returned cargo for reefer transportation; plus the know-how of handling the product is also one of the major concerns in the industry. People do not understand the various temperature requirements, maintaining the temperature for storing various products and maintenance of the same.

What are the key driving factors and challenges in the Indian cold chain industry?

India is one of the largest producers of fruits and vegetables in the world; we are also one of the largest producers of dairy products. Our in house consumption is also great, so there is high growth potential which can be attained in this sector. Our exports are not even 1 percent of the total fruits and vegetables produced. So, if we are able to increase the F&B market or the processing of these products, we would be able to cater to the large sector of this industry. We have a large coastline, se so we can also expand marine exports so that the marine industries can also get the benefits of it.


What has been the impact of COVID-19 on the Indian cold chain market?

I think the ice cream production has suffered a lot due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Talking about overall impact, yes, COVID 19 has impacted the cold chain industry as well with the food industry having difficulties in storage and transportation of harvested and processed produce. However the pharma industry was able to do well and they have done a great job. So, yes, the impacts of COVID-19 were there of course, but the learning has also been great as people have shifted to e-commerce, and the trend is growing day by day in terms of frozen food deliveries.


COVID-19 vaccine storage and distribution will need efficient cold chain. Could you discuss the opportunities for HVAC players like you in this area?

I think there is a massive opportunity in the cold chain industry where you will be looking at a complete cold chain right from the manufacturer to the consumer of the vaccine. There will be an emphasis on having highly efficient cold chain. We have been talking about cold chain for the last 25 years but we never witnessed opportunities on such a large scale where people could really get benefitted through cold chain infrastructure in a big way.

We do not have an efficient cold chain system in India; we only provide cold storages, which are being utilised by 99 percent of potatoes and mass produce fruits like banana among others. But COVID 19 pandemic has been a great eye opener for the entire world, and so for India, as we see that we are still not fully equipped with manufacturing and distributing large scale vaccines when it comes to cold chain. There are no players who can deliver Tier1, Tier2 or Tier 3 efficiently. Catering Tier 1 is still a difficult task so Tier 2 and Tier 3 is a dream away. And the opportunities, as I said that you could create various linkages in terms of storage at the airports, hospitals, transportation in terms of reefer vans, primary and secondary transportation and creation of large scale cold chain hubs for storage and distribution of consumable goods.


Do you expect any shift in the business strategy anticipating higher demand in pharma sector?
Yes, there is going to be a huge shift in the business strategy because there is going to be large scale distribution for the pharma industry. Once the vaccine comes in the market, there is going to be storage and distribution at every level. So when you start from imports, you start from factories, it require storage and distribution at each touch point, right from reefer vans to foot soldiers. You will have to train the individuals involved in the entire process, right from the front line workers, and the back line workers in urban and rural areas. I think the strategy has to be planned in such a way that all 750 districts in India are covered effectively. So yes, the business strategy is going to be altered for the Pharma industry forever.


How are you gearing up to meet tomorrow’s need?

We are gearing up with bringing innovation in our products and services, especially in portable cold chain solutions where we would like to create large scale storage across the country covering pharma manufacturing hubs, airports, logistic centres, hospitals, healthcare centres, and distribution centres. We are also looking at developing a complete ecosystem where larger cold storage warehouses would work as mother hubs, the products can be distributed through refrigerated transport vehicles and can be stored in portable reefer containers at customer’s end thus creating a complete cold chain infrastructure.

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