In conversation with Akash Agarwal – CEO, Crystal Group

Akash Agarwal

“There is going to be storage and distribution at every level. So you start from imports, you start from factories, they require storage & distribution at each touch point, right from reefer vans to foot soldiers..”

How do you evaluate the cold chain logistics Industry from previous years to now?

The transition in the cold chain logistics has happened in a big way. If you have started 20 yrs back in terms of cold chain logistics the movement of cold chain was not great. It was in a very premature stage and it was mostly used for ice cream & butter or dairy products predominantly. But today we have a bunch of other products also such as QSR, confectionaries, meat, marine etc. The transition is happening as the industry is growing. Food factories and parks are coming up in the country which is a boosting factor.

Can you briefly describe what your company does?

We are more than 20 yrs in this cold chain industry. And we understand the entire gamut of primary logistics, the warehousing and also the last mile delivery. We understand the business in terms of food , pharma and we have expertise in handling the cold chain with our experienced team, who understand the cold chain and the integrity required to handle the perishable cargo.

Do you cover whole of the India?

Today we have almost all India reach, where we have been able to cover all major cities by our reefer transportation plus we have also been able to create cold chain warehouses prominently in the coastal areas. We started with Kolkata, now we are expanding it with Bhubaneshwar & Visakhapatnam. We are coming up in JNPT and in the north we are looking at Delhi. In terms of palletized cold storage, by 2021 we are growing to 24000 pallet capacity. The major challenge in the cold chain industry is the lack of expertise, lack of trained manpower, and the lack of returned cargo for reefer transportation plus the know-how of handling the product is one of the biggest challenges that has been faced. People do not understand the various temperatures and how they have to be maintained and the products have to be stored.

What are the biggest challenges facing in the Indian cold chain industry?

Key driving factor, since India is one of the largest producers of fruits & vegetables in the world and we are also one of the largest producers of dairy products. Our in house consumption is also great that there is high potential of the growth which can be attained in this sector. We are not exporting- even 1% of the fruit & vegetable produce that we are producing today. So even if we are able to increase the f&v market or the processing of these products, we would be able to cater to the large sector of this industry. We have a large coastline so the marine industry can benefit a lot. We can increase our marine export.

“India is one of the largest producers of fruits & vegetables in the world and we are also one of the largest producers of dairy products. We are not exporting even 1% of the fruit & vegetable produce that we are producing today…”

How has business fared in 2020 compared to previous years?

I think the ice cream industry has suffered a lot due to the COVID 19 pandemic. If you talk about overall impact, COVID 19 has impacted the cold chain industry as well where the food industry faced difficulties in storage & transportation of harvested & processed produce. However the pharma industry has been able to do well and done a great job. So the impact of COVID 19 has been seen of course, but the learning has also been great where people have shifted to e-commerce and the trend is growing day by day in terms of frozen food deliveries.

Could you discuss the opportunities for cold chain business in 2021 in this area?

I think there is a massive opportunity in the cold chain industry where you will be looking at a complete cold chain right from the manufacturer to the consumer of the vaccine so a highly efficient cold chain will be required. We have been talking about cold chain for the last 25 years and never have seen the opportunities on such a large scale where people could really get benefitted through cold chain infrastructure in a big way. We do not have an efficient cold chain system in the county, rather we only have cold storages if we say, which are used by 99% of potatoes and mass produce fruits like banana etc.

But COVID 19 pandemic is a great eye opener for the entire world and so for India and at least in India we have been seeing that we are still not well well equipped with manufacturing and distributing large scale vaccines when it comes to cold chain. There is not a single player who can deliver Tier1, Tier2 or Tier 3 efficiently. Catering Tier 1 is still a difficult task so Tier 2 & Tier 3 is a dream away. And the opportunities as I said that you could create various linkages in terms of storage at the airports, storage at the hospitals, transportation in terms of reefer vans, primary & secondary transportation and creation of large scale cold chain hubs because that is going to be required to store and distribute the goods.

“there is a massive opportunity in the cold chain industry where you will be looking at a complete cold chain right from the manufacturer to the consumer of the vaccine so a highly efficient cold chain will be required..”

How fast is the industrial side growing especially in pharma sector?

There is going to be a huge shift in the business strategy because there is going to be large scale distribution for the pharma industry once the vaccine comes in, there is going to be storage and distribution at every level. So you start from imports, you start from factories, they require storage & distribution at each touch point, right from reefer vans to foot soldiers. You will need to train all who are involved in the process, the front line workers, the back line workers in urban & rural areas. I think the strategy has to be planned in such a way that all 750 districts in India should be covered effectively. So, the business strategy is going to be changed for the Pharma industry forever.

What are you most looking forward to doing as CEO of Crystal Group?

We are gearing up with bringing innovation in our products & services, especially in portable cold chain solutions where we would like to create a large scale storage across the country covering pharma manufacturing hubs, airports, logistic centers, hospitals, healthcare centers, distribution centers. We are also looking at developing a complete ecosystem where larger cold storage warehouses would work as mother hubs, the products can be distributed through refrigerated transport vehicles and can be stored in portable reefer containers at customer’s end thus creating a complete cold chain infrastructure.

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