Being one of the largest producers and biggest consumers of food, food services (F&B) markets in India is gaining traction owing to the young working population, rising disposable incomes, growth of the consumers in various socio-economic strata, exposure to new cultures and cuisines, and change in eating habits of families. The role of food processing industry is important for food preservation and reduction of food waste. The industry has recorded an impressive growth at a compound annual growth rate of 14.6 per cent from 2016 to 2020, according to the government data.

Crisil Research has projected an investment of Rs 16,000-21,000 crore in the cold storage sector between 2019 and 2023 for optimising the domestic post-harvest value chain and to feed the downstream food processing industry.

According to various research reports, the market for restaurants including cafes and Quick Serve Restaurant (QSR) is expected to grow between 15 to 20 per cent CAGR, thus, driving the QSR consumption. This will promote the processed food and beverages industry, resulting in backward integration to farms.

“India is among the world’s largest producers of fruits, vegetables, milk, meat, and seafood, but the nation has access to only 60 per cent of this production. Embraco believes that the country has a huge potential to improve it, developing the whole system, while reducing the gap between production and cold storage and avoiding food waste,” says Esequias Pereira Junior, Sales Senior Manager for Asia Pacific Region, Embraco.

According to Invest India, a national investment promotion and facilitation agency, the annual value of harvest and post-harvest losses of major agricultural produce at the national level is estimated to be USD 14 billion. Alongside that, India is ranked second in food production globally. Hence, the cold chain solutions are important for the F&B industry to support every step of the way linking Indian farmers to consumers.

Trends

Generally, type and level of cold storages to be set up depends on the size and scale of operations in F&B industry, be it a hotel or a QSR or a dine-in restaurant or an F&V (food and vegetable) storage. Maintaining quality, retaining freshness of perishables, reducing food wastage, and optimising supply-demand are the main drivers.

M Srinivas Reddy, Senior General Manager – Commercial Refrigeration and Corporate Planning, Blue Star Limited informs, “Technology wise, the refrigeration systems deployed walk-in cold and freezer rooms would use either air-cooled or water-cooled heat exchanger with choice of hermetic or semi-hermetic compressors. Water–cooled refrigeration systems for cold rooms are preferred in those places where water is available from captive cooling towers such as at hotels, and they consume 15-20 per cent less energy as compared to air-cooled ones.”

Nowadays, consumers prefer fresh and quality products. So, it is pertinent to make sure that the food product always remains fresh and is stored under desired conditions not only at the outlet but also during transportation.

Real time data monitoring with the growing dependency on IT infrastructure plus the cloud technology is now becoming the need of the hour as it enables the supplier to prove the quality and credibility of the goods anytime anywhere. Transportation trucks, warehouses, cold rooms etc. can now be remotely monitored via Testo data loggers and data monitoring systems. To any facility in-charge these solutions provide uninterrupted and reliable measurement. Testo data loggers measure and document temperature and humidity automatically and without interruption at every step, informs Kalidas Bhangare, Managing Director, Testo India.

Cold storages need steady power supply to maintain temperature. Power cost contributes to more than 50 per cent of total cost of operating cold storages.

In cold storages one of the prime trends is to find ways to keep the asset operating cost low by optimising the running during low utilisation periods. A cold storage has to operate 24/7 to meet compliance even if it is occupied with only 5 per cent payload. Hence, many times cold storage owners turn the equipment off for 8 to 10 hours to save on the cost, Vishnu Sasidharan, Vice President-New product Initiatives, Pluss Advanced Technologies.

Innovative Cold Storage

Development of highly efficient cold chain is essential in order to ensure safe and nutritious food and improve food security. As a result, innovations are taking place in every sphere of cold chain like, related machinery for energy efficient cooling as also use of environment friendly natural refrigerants, fast handling and management to keep food and beverages, and other technologies specific to the type of food to maintain its integrity.

In order to reduce the carbon footprint, cold chain sector in F&B is exploring the use of renewable energy such as solar, biomass, and wind energy.

“Even technologies emerging for food processing are such that function in hybridisation manner with cold chain involving minimal processing of its constituents. Cryogenic technology has another dimension for F&B sector to prolong their life. Trends are changing even in case of regulatory standards and guidelines to facilitate cold chain growth vis-à-vis F&B,” informs Atul Khanna, Atul Khanna – India Representative, Global Cold Chain Alliance (GCCA).

M Srinivas Reddy apprises, “The compelling need for reducing energy consumption and care for environment are driving innovations in compressor technology, heat exchanger design, eco-friendly refrigerants, precision temperature monitoring and controlling, use of Cyclopentane in PUF manufacturing etc. Though renewable energy adoption is still in experimentation levels, we can expect the use of renewable energy in cold storage systems in near future.”

Vishnu Sasidharan believes that these new technologies come at a cost, however, innovative business models allow for leasing out these technologies on pay per use basis. He further lists out the benefits of thermal energy storage such as offering 10 -16 hours of backup during power outages, reducing the compressor run time by at least 25 per cent and shifting electric load from peak to off-peak period.

“Retrofitting the current cold storage to utilise renewable energy is an effective trend in reducing the operating cost and also the impact on environment. In many areas such as in the last mile wherein energy access is limited solar based micro-cold rooms integrated with thermal energy storage systems offer cooling without dependency on the grid,” further adds Sasidharan.

Nowadays, integration of IoT has brought about a tectonic shift in the working of cold storages for F&B, thus offering visibility of real time temperature and utilisation data that predicts or simulates a scenario. And accordingly, corrective actions can be taken before the product is stored such as predictive maintenance and capacity augmentation.

The testo Saveris 2 Wi-Fi data logger system is the apt solution to humidity and temperature monitoring in storerooms, cold storage area and work rooms, as well as during workflow processes. This innovative monitoring system eliminates staff work of reading out and documenting the individual measurement data, simplifying the assurance of high product quality. “With a secure online storage of all readings in Testo Cloud the data can be managed and analysed online by the user via smartphone, tablet or PC anywhere and anytime. In case of deviations, it is provided with an alarm by e-mail, or optionally by SMS. Testo Saveris 2 equips the responsible person to analyse and document the real time readings of multiple locations and cold rooms from one place,” informs Kalidas Bhangare from Testo.

Embraco offers a wide range of cooling solutions for food retail, food service, and merchandisers segments. Embraco developed Bioma, a tailor-made solution for urban areas that meets food retail and food service needs, such as easy maintenance, fast installation, and space restrictions. The compact equipment is designed for cold rooms and outdoor applications with low noise level requirements, such as petrol stations, restaurants, and convenience stores.

Bioma employs innovative airflow management and looks with a hidden fan to prevent phantom sound. The unit achieves more than 50 per cent noise reduction level if it is compared to the similar models in the market, a result made possible by the unique and squared front design and the use of only one fan in all three sizes, informs Esequias Pereira Junior.

Advanced Cold Storage Technologies Helping F&B Industry

The advent of advanced cold chain technologies has helped to meet the requirements of different business models for frozen and processed food items such as meat, fish, frozen food products, and ready-to-eat meals and snacks and has helped to bring market-oriented results.

Further, technology supports the F&B industry to stick to necessary regulations like for refrigeration-mandatory foods, legal stipulations regulate the temperature zones which must be adhered to during the cold chain. It is necessary to maintain temperature for certain food items for maintenance of its quality and freshness. Bhangare informs about temperature requirement for fruits and vegetables, meat, dairy and fish as follows:

  • Deep-frozen meat and fish need to be continuously chilled through (-)18C
  • Max temperature required for fresh meat is (+)4C
  • Other perishable foods including e.g. baked goods with incompletely baked filling or covering, freshly cut salads and delicatessen salads: (+)7C
  • Pasteurised milk: (+)8C
  • Butter, cream cheese, soft cheese: (+)10C
  • For fruits and vegetables, a temperature range of (+)1 to (+)12C is applicable.

“Food should be made safer for the consumer and these technological aids confirm the freshness and nutritional value of the food items. Consistent data monitoring from farm to fork is crucial to retain the food quality. This helps in reducing any sort of wastage or rejection at any step of the food distribution chain and saves a lot of money. Business grow in terms of quality, brand name and consumer confidence just by adhering to the very basic measurement techniques. Not only that, technological advancement by maintaining the quality of food, ultimately promotes customer health as top priority,” he adds.

While illustrating the advanced technologies playing significant role in F&B industry, Khanna gives the example of China. In the dairy industry, for instance; milk and cheese are relatively new to the Chinese diet, but consumers’ taste for them is growing. US exports of dairy products to China are skyrocketing as 1.4 billion people migrate to cities, draw middle-class wages, and discover foods like ice cream, cheese pizza, and chocolate-flavoured milk. Another reason for this fast growth is that China’s domestic F&B industry has a dismal track record when it comes to meeting quality standards, and Chinese consumers have grown leery of domestically produced products after a history of contamination scares. Advance technologies will play a significant role in ameliorating such problems.

M Srinivas Reddy predicts that the reliability of design, quality standards in installations, post-sales service assurance and post-warranty costs coupled with the company’s ability to deliver on-time service during product lifecycle are going to weigh critically in customer’s mind. This will contribute to significant value creation in the supply chain by way of wastage reduction and offering consumers quality products.

Vishnu Sasidharan believes that it is important for business heads and supply chain managers to look at the intangible benefits that come from the end customer experience in terms of efficiency of the service which would be the long-term result of implementation.

Conclusion

India has an immense potential to become a food supplier to the world, given its scale in food production and consumption. Therefore, it is extremely important to have a robust supply chain involving cold chains from farm to fork to reduce wastages across the value chain. containing food wastage by any measure will significantly save our precious natural resources.

F&B cold chain will continue to be at the forefront of trends within the distribution warehousing industry for many years to come. These will include the growth in specialised services and regulations for the basic, life-sustaining nature of the food and beverage sector, concludes Khanna.


By Supriya A Oundhakar, Associate Editor