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Crisil Research has estimated that investment of Rs16,000-21,000 crore is being lined up in the cold chain sector between 2019 and 2023 for optimizing the domestic post-harvest value chain and to feed the downstream food processing industry. Subject matter experts assert that India needs to realize its true potential and it is time to transform the traditional perishables business through integrated cold-chain solutions, modernization and the use of technology. Team CELERITY spoke to the industry experts on what are the immediate challenges and their solutions…

COLD storage forms the most vital post-harvest horticultural value chain for the downstream food processing industry. The current cold storage capacity in India is pegged at 37-39 million tons (MT). According to official statistics, there are about 7,645 cold storages in the country with 68% of the capacity being used for potato, while 30% is multi-commodity cold storage. As per Crisil research estimates, the cold storage industry is slated to grow at a CAGR of 13-15% over fiscals 2019-23, mainly driven by rising demand for processed food, fresh fruits & vegetables, seafood and bio-pharmaceuticals in exports markets.

Looking at the growing demand & supply, it is expected that Rs21,000 crore will be invested in next 4-5 years in setting up or upgrading cold storages to address the problem of stockpiling of perishable commodities. There has been an urgent need to upgrade existing cold storage plant and machinery, and technology. An under-developed food processing value chain is another issue that needs to be resolved.

Soumalya Mukherjee, Co-founder, Tan90 Thermal Solutions

Soumalya Mukherjee, Co-founder, Business Development, Tan90 Thermal Solutions Pvt Ltd.

Small scale dealers who deal with perishables (or marginal farmers) are the worst hit during the peak summers. In horticulture, leafy vegetables like spinach, lettuce, broccoli become dehydrated, resulting in a decrease of 70% of its value. The situation worsens in tropical demographics, with the likes of Chennai and Ahmedabad, in which the users cannot even hold for 1-2 hours. Ice is not a viable option, given the low volume optimization. To meet this end, the present solution includes cutting/ processing of the produce at 6 a.m. in the morning and aim to sell them before 8 a.m. Low shipment size discourages the entry of reefer services to these areas, limiting the outreach of the dealers/farmers. Larger F2F (farm to fork) organizations have to optimize their supply chain to minimize their loss. One of the major challenges with cold transportation is the rapid increment of temperature caused by the opening of doors (curtains or air current are being employed to alleviate this) that limits the outreach of delivery services, working on eutectic back-ups. Compartments are often included, which lose out on volume optimization. We support our users with portable cold storage units that are robust and can be stacked on themselves, providing them with the freedom to leverage any logistics service, already in place in their supply chain. The storage units are designed with a view to minimize loss of volume and are comparable to presently used HDPE plastic crates. Being standalone devices, a single user can transport perishables having different temperature requirements simultaneously. Easy tagging of the storage units with real-time analysis of data points ensure safety during transportation. With our cold solution in place, users can extend their holding time to more than 12 hours during transportation, without any additional investment on logistics assets.

Somnath Chatterjee, Head – Procurement & Logistics, ITC Ltd. (Foods)

Somnath Chatterjee, Head – Procurement & Logistics, ITC Ltd. (Foods Division)

Refrigerated transport services are used by mainly two industries, Agriculture and Pharma. India is one of the largest agriculture-producing nations in the World and even a pharma powerhouse globally, especially on the consumption side. In spite of ripe market conditions, cold chain industry has been marred with challenges like unorganized market with numerous small-time operators, imbalance of demand of supply of reefer vehicles, multi-crore investment, and low return on investment as compared to ambient truck.

Other side of the challenge is to keep temperature inside reefer trucks and storage during hot and humid weather. When outdoor temperatures soar, it has major impact on the interior temperature of the truck/cold store and condensation. If temperature drops a few degrees inside the truck or cold store, it will spoil the product or product becomes inedible. Most of the cases, the supplier loads the cargo with incorrect temperature which affect overall temperature of the truck during transportation as well as storage. Incorrect temperature affects temperature sensitive cargo like ice cream. When humidity levels are too high within a refrigerated trailer, condensation accumulates on the ceiling, walls and cargo. Once condensation forms, it remains either in liquid form, or freezes over. The additional moisture and ice crystals have the potential to cause food items to become inedible.

In order to circumvent the above challenges in transportation as well as storage, the refrigeration units must be continuously operated, the interior temperature and humidity continuously monitored and adjust the same as per requirement. Most importantly, the cargo should be loaded, transported and stored at correct and consistent temperature throughout the supply chain.

Pawanexh Kohli, Chief Executive and Advisor, NCCD

Pawanexh Kohli, Chief Executive and Advisor, National Centre for Cold-chain Development (NCCD)

Raised air temperatures directly impact on running efficiencies or the mechanical equipment, increases machine breakdown risk and can compromise rubber seals or even cause physical distortion in some structures. All cold-chain operators should evaluate the age of their mechanical equipment, insulation and review their periodic maintenance systems. Damaged insulation should be renewed or repaired, oil changes are advised in all mechanical engines (reefers, generators, compressors, etc.), rubber gaskets can be renewed ahead of normal cycle. In the hot season, expect more dust and hence it is prudent to keep extra air filters handy. Calibrate all temperature sensors, as well as high temperature cut-outs on equipment. Consult your engineering support teams for individual maintenance needs. Do not ignore breaches in your infrastructure envelope and immediately repair and seal off all insulation.

Loading and unloading periods raise risk of temperature excursions, and hence the ante-room equipment should be given special attention and maintained in good order. In case of stored products that require frequent fresh air replenishment, re-evaluate your practices so as to conduct this activity at the lowest temperature point of a day. Where feasible, adjust to skip a refresh cycle in the peak temperature period. During hot spells, rodents and birds will also try to access cool spaces, and hence it is advised to keep pest prevention measures at peak. The summer season is the precursor to monsoons – now is also the time to check roofs, gutters and drains and ensure they are clear; replace the brake pads and wipers of your reefer trucks in advance of monsoons to avoid accidents.

Rajeev Bhanawat, Business Head – Milk, Parag Milk Foods

Rajeev Bhanawat, Business Head – Milk, Parag Milk Foods Ltd

An efficient and effective cold supply chain is increasingly key to success within the milk industry. Time, temperature, cost, distance, demand, forecasting, and packaging are all important considerations in developing a strong dairy supply chain with temperature becoming more important in hot and humid environment like in India. Added complexity of cold supply chain in milk industry is that it has to begin right after milk comes out of udder of an animal and has to be maintained till it is consumed. Another important aspect of supply chain is that maximum and rapid deterioration in quality happens when milk has still not reached to the processing plant. Therefore, the industry is focusing on developing the required refrigeration infrastructure nearer to milk production point in villages to ensure rapid cooling of milk and then transport to milk processing centers. Focus on raw milk quality improvement is helping the industry in providing the consumer a better product not in terms of shelf life but also in terms of freshness and taste. At distribution front, now things are becoming better with rapid growth of organized retailing along with increased penetration of refrigerators in traditional outlets as well.

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