Adhip Nath Palchaudhuri is a seasoned professional with over 28 years corporate experience. Prior to joining Balmer Lawrie, he has worked with a wide variety of reputed organisations in the IT Services/Consulting sector in India and abroad.
Around two years ago this time, I remember there was a unique burst of activity in Balmer Lawrie’s Cold Chain unit at Hyderabad. The world was grappling with grief, pathos, death and distress! The COVID-19 pandemic had uncannily gripped our lives and no matter what we did, it was not easy to escape its fangs. Well, the only respite was to mask up and get vaccinated. Amidst all the unprecedented challenges and crisis, Balmer Lawrie contributed to the world’s largest vaccination drive by being the only storage and logistics partner of Bharat Biotech in Hyderabad for handling Covaxin.
Our Cold Chain Unit provided end-to-end solutions including unloading, storage, packaging, loading and despatch of Covaxin to different parts of the country as per the Government of India's directive. Balmer Lawrie provided unstinting support to Bharat Biotech and in turn the Government, in India's mission to drive the world's largest COVID-19 vaccination program. Subsequently, Balmer Lawrie handled Sputnik vaccine for Dr. Reddy’s in India. The Cold Chain logistics industry’s contribution during the pandemic was not only significant in India but across countries in the world. The last couple of years during the pandemic have been a revelation where the logistics industry worked relentlessly to ensure the supply chains are maintained be it pharmaceuticals, edible products, industrial products, etc.
Today, the rising demand for superior Cold Chain logistics services from India’s sunrise sector, the food processing industry is noteworthy. India is the largest producer of milk. It stands first in dairy production and second in horticulture crops globally. As per the Ministry of Food Processing Industries, Government of India (GOI), the food processing industry has been growing at an AAGR of 8.3% in the last five years. Over US $6 Bn worth of FDI has been made in the food processing sector since 2014-15. Processed food contributed 22.6% share of Agri-food exports in 2021-22. There are 23 operational mega food parks, 271 integrated cold chains, 47 backward - forward linkage projects and 140 food testing labs.
The Government is encouraging corporates and other institutions to leverage its scheme of “Integrated Cold Chain and Value Addition Infrastructure” that provides integrated cold chain and preservation infrastructure facilities, without any break, from the farm gate to the consumer.It covers creation of infrastructure facility along
with the entire supply chain viz. pre-cooling, weighing, sorting, grading, waxing facilities at farm level, multi product / multi temperature cold storage, Controlled Atmosphere (CA) storage, packing facility, Individual Quick Freezing (IQF), blast freezing in the distribution hub and reefer vans, mobile cooling units for facilitating distribution of products which are mostly perishable. Industries catered to by Cold Chain logistics include fruits &vegetables, meat, fish, poultry, dairy, pharma, modern retail, QSR etc.
India's cold storage sector is largely divided into two categories: unorganised cold storages and modern cold chains. Unorganised cold storages are small-scale facilities that are typically owned and operated by individual farmers, traders, or local entrepreneurs. These facilities are often located in rural areas and are used to store perishable produce, such as fruits, vegetables, and dairy products, for short periods of time. They are often lacking in modern refrigeration and temperature control equipment and may have limited or no access to transportation infrastructure. Modern cold chains, on the other hand, are large-scale facilities that are typically owned and operated by private companies. These facilities are equipped with modern refrigeration and temperature control equipment and are designed to provide end-to-end cold chain solutions for the transportation and storage of perishable goods. They are often located in or near major cities and are connected to transportation networks, including rail and road.
The key differences between unorganised cold storages and modern cold chains are the scale of operation, level of technology, and the scope of services provided. While unorganised cold storages are small and limited in their capabilities, modern cold chains offer a range of services, including transportation, storage, and value-added services such as sorting, grading, and packaging. Modern cold chains are becoming increasingly important in India's agriculture sector, as they provide a more efficient and reliable means of transporting and storing perishable produce. They also help to reduce post-harvest losses, improve the quality of the produce, and increase the shelf life of the products.
India's Logistics ranking in World Bank's Logistics Performance Index 2023 has improved by 6 positions to 38th among 139 countries. In 2022, India emerged the fifth largest economy in the world, clocked over USD 400 billion Exports and over USD 600 billion Imports last year. Today, India is emerging as a leading Logistics Hub, with the Government rolling out initiatives like the PM Gati Shakti, Multi Modal Logistics Parks (MMLPs), National Logistics policy, Dedicated Freight Corridors, National Rail Plan 2030, Sagarmala, Act East policy etc. The Indian Cold Chain market is expected to grow at 14.3% (2023-2038). However, at this juncture India has to set up more cold storage capacity and increase it from 226.7 lakh tons to the required 350 lakh tons.
Furthermore, innovative cold chain logistics practices are picking up. Smart packaging solutions that report and control oxygen, humidity and/or pressure, besides temperature, allow the use of standard transport networks and last-mile delivery services instead of the expensive climate-controlled trucks and containers. For example, DHL's Lifetrack cold-chain management platform offers an end–to–end cold chain network in most developed markets like Europe. Internet of Things, Automation technology, Blockchain technology, Cloud Computing, Big Data Analysis, Artificial Intelligence and Robotics is being leveraged by market leaders in this domain to provide end-to-end lean and smart cold chain logistics solutions, enhance quality, reduce cost and minimise human intervention. Innovations in refrigeration technology and app-based tracking is helping the sector and technology will help in making the impossible possible.
The leading players of the organised Cold Chain industry Snowman, Coldman, Hind Terminal, Western Farm Fresh, JWL etc. are leveraging technology to provide economic and green cold chain solutions. New age tech driven start-ups like Celsius and Indicoldare also bringing in disruptions through digital solutions enabling aggregation for Asse-light solutions, for tracking, payment etc. Mega Logistics players like DP World also have massive plans and the investment plans of these players can only bode good tidings for the industry.
The future of Cold Chain logistics is bright and in India the industry will be witnessing an upsurge in decades to come.