Many more cold storages on the horizon

The Federation of Cold Storage Associations of India (FCAOI) is an all India association that exchanges and shares the latest cold storage technologies among member federations. Mahendra Swarup, President, FCAOI gives an insight into the Indian cold chain industry in an interview with Cooling India.

What are the evolutions that you have witnessed in the cold chain industry over the years?

Earlier, there was no concept of cold chain in India despite having a lot of cold storages. We have seen fish being sent to Kolkata from Punjab and Uttar Pradesh covered with ice blocks only. By the time fish used to reach Kolkata, ice used to get melt. Gradually, the concept of cold chain has taken shape and now entrepreneurs have started using refrigerated van.

Even cold storages are being constructed at the growing centres for apples, mangoes, cherry etc. There is a lot of need for cold chain in India because presently cold chain industry is at nascent stage.

Why cold chain is becoming a hot investment area in India?

There is a general perception that a lot of fruits and vegetables in India are being wasted due to lack of proper preservation and cold chain infrastructure. This generates huge potential in this sector. Hence, there is an enormous scope in the cold chain sector.

Cold chain originates right from farm or orchard level to big cities or centres of consumption and ports or even in the ships. Thus, cold chain operation becomes complete from farm to fork. At every level, cold chain facility is needed.

What are the respective contributions of organised and unorganised players to the country’s cold chain industry?

Unorganised sector constitutes a major part of the cold chain industry. Now, gradually organised sector is also participating in the cold chain industry and have started constructing air-conditioned depots at various strategic points and at ports for exports and imports.

What are the growth drivers for the industry?

Growth drivers for this industry are the development of market and the development of food processing industry that are all inter-connected. Availability of uninterrupted power is essential for the growth of cold chain industry. Cost of power along with cost of diesel is also one of the key factors that also contributes to the development of the sector.

What steps the industry is taking to overcome the challenges such as the lack of quality cold warehousing infrastructure, the low awareness of labour in handling temperature-sensitive products, the high fuel cost, power cuts, etc.?

At several strategic points, quality cold warehouses are being constructed. More sensitive equipment are being used to record temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide presence in the cold storages. So, labour is also being trained to handle such type of cold storages by various equipment manufacturing companies. To combat high fuel cost and power cuts, cold storages are trying to tread the path of renewable energy like solar power systems in parallel with grid power.

According to you, what are the key challenges faced by the industry?

There is a lack of sale of preserved food items in India. People prefer fresh fruits and vegetables to preserved fruits and vegetables. Under stressed conditions, they want to buy preserved fruits or vegetables or food items unlike western countries markets. As the market will grow, the cold chain industry will grow in the same pace.

What are the initiatives taken by the government for the industry?

The government is providing subsidy as well as technical information. National Institute of Food Technology Entrepreneurship and Management, is an example. The objective is the creation of world class institution in order to cater to the various stakeholders such as entrepreneurs, food processing industry, exporters, policymakers, government and institution. The government is also encouraging and building food parks for processing industry. This will be a big help to the cold chain industry.

What steps are being taken by the association for the betterment of the industry?

We are regularly educating our members in the field cold storages and cold chain asking them to put cold storages for multi-products and not just cold storages for potato only. Thus, new cold storages are coming up fast for the preservation of vegetables like green peas, carrots etc.

What are the technological developments happening for the cold storage?

New cold storages with controlled atmosphere CA or modified atmosphere are also coming up. They keep the produce in original condition. Cold storages below 0C and up to (-) 25C for the preservation of fish, meat, and fast perishable milk products, animal husbandry etc are becoming quite common.

What are the future prospects of the cold chain industry in India?

The future of cold chain industry is very bright and we hope many more cold storages would come for various food products apart from fruits and vegetables, mainly for milk and milk products, animal husbandry, fish and seafood.