India’s Refrigerated Transportation Market: Tapping the Right Potential

The refrigerated transport market of India has been in a nascent stage until a decade ago when the industry began to have a structural reform and the demand for quality food increased among the citizens. In this feature, while tapping on the potential of the market, we will explore the impact of the pandemic on the segment, its growth trajectory, OEMs’ extended support to the segment and much more

Cold chain transportation plays an integral role in ensuring the smooth movement of various products. The cold chain transportation in India is mainly carried by roadways as there is laxity in the development of rail and air mode of cold chain transportation.

Even though India has such a large network of railways, rail reefer transportation is still at a nascent stage and calls for a need to draw a better strategy. Dominated by road, the cold chain transportation sector is divided into Long Haul Transport and Short Haul Transport. There are an estimated 13,000 long haul transport vehicles and 8,000 short-haul transport vehicles across the country.

The refrigerated transportation market, which once had limited capabilities, has evolved manifold and witnessed a steady growth.

The Asia Pacific region in 2019 held the largest share in the refrigerated transport market, with China and India being the key markets. However, with the outbreak of the COVID pandemic, the refrigerated market, similar to any other segment, faced a setback.

“It was a very tough and challenging situation for all. The food supply chain was disrupted in the chaos of border closures. Perishable goods weren’t able to reach their destination, and much of the goods expired in storage / in transit/ at the end-user side. Food processing during the height of the lockdown was slow due to a resource crunch on account of lockdown and quarantine measures. That led to a dramatic decrease in food transport, as many countries saw at least a 30% decrease in truck traffic”, says Sakthivarman R, VP-Operations, Snowman Logistics Limited.

Adding to the troubles were working remotely from home, pooling of resources to manage to the best level possible with a huge cost for taking care of their commutation, local body approval, shelter, food, etc.

“Initial impact of COVID made us realise that the limited infrastructure and options will not assist to sustain the business demand. We had to share the business among several people and gain confidence in the service level. Some of the destinations were new and had no service available, which we identified as growth areas and gradually built our network to cater to expanded market,” shared Jeevan Rao Sahib, Founder & Director, Indelox.

In addition to these, the major shift in priority of essentials toned down the movement of certain items while increasing the movement of vaccines and pharma products.

“Since the pandemic, the movement of refrigerated items like ice-cream and meat segments has slowed down. Most of our cold chain vehicles are used for carrying vaccines except for last-mile distribution”, shares Kishor Patil, Trane Technologies HVAC & Transport, India & SAARC country leader, Thermo King.

While the initial days brought difficult times, the industry was quick to think and cashed in on the opportunities brought by the pandemic as soon as the government permitted the movement of essentials.

“Couple of weeks down the line as the confusion settled and the virus behaviour was fairly understood, the perishable market especially the dairy and F&V bounced back quickly giving a lot of relief to the refrigerated trucking industry. At Coldman, I am happy to share that our wheels kept moving and the warehouse was operational 24X7 to meet the market demand. Our team across the country ensured the regular supply of essentials like milk, fruits, veggies, and other food products on daily basis to the households”, said Sanjay Sharma, Vice President, Coldman Logistics.

While some companies capitalised on their workforce, many quickly adapted to the necessary technology and optimised their operations as per the requirements.

Speaking along the same lines, Swarup Bose, Founder and CEO, Celcius shared, “We were able to launch Celcius’ online platform. Our software-driven marketplace brought complete transparency to online tracking and monitoring systems. It also enabled transporters, irrespective of their fleet size, to get verified and book consignment deals across the country while also making it easy for them to track their fleet once it was on the road”.

Regardless of the evolvement of the pandemic, the refrigerated transportation segment has shown resilience and growth.

This is an abridged version of the original article that was first published in the September issue of the Logistics Insider magazine. To access the complete unabridged version, get your digital copy now!

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