Cold chain logistics in India: Challenges and opportunities

Published: 26-Jul-2022

Can India's cold chain logistics infrastructure support this fast-growing industry? This article explores the challenges and opportunities facing the Indian cold chain sector

India’s pharmaceutical and clinical trial sectors are booming. With over 3,000 pharmaceutical companies based at over 10,000 manufacturing sites, India has become the world’s biggest manufacturer of generic drugs and supplier of 50% of the world’s vaccines. But can its cold chain logistics infrastructure support this fast-growing industry? This article explores the challenges and opportunities facing the Indian cold chain sector.

Cold Chain Logistics in India

In 2021, the Indian cold chain logistics market was valued at $16 million, and its value is forecasted to reach $36 million by 2027.1 While this growth is in large part being driven by India’s booming food industry, which requires significant cold chain infrastructure, including temperature-controlled vehicles, storage, and packaging, medical and pharmaceutical sectors (albeit predominantly export markets) have shown significant growth as well.2

The Indian pharmaceutical market is valued at $42 billion and is the third largest producer of pharmaceutical products in terms of volume in the world. In addition, it’s the largest producer of generic drugs globally and supplies over 50% of the global demand for vaccines.3 The outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020 further established India as one of the world’s major vaccine manufacturers, the country being the second largest exporter of COVID-19 vaccines to date.

But is India's supply chain infrastructure ready to support such burgeoning growth?

Key Challenges in the Indian Cold Chain Market

India experiences an annual average temperature of 30°C, with temperature highs of 45°C+ in the summer months. Coupled with challenging topography, the 7th largest surface area in the world, and an over-reliance on road freight, this vast movement and storage of pharmaceutical products, vaccines, and food requires significant cold chain infrastructure, the latest technologies, support, and expertise.

Nearly 20% of India's temperature-sensitive healthcare products arrive damaged or degraded because of broken or insufficient cold chains.4 In 2021, India’s cold chain was described as “crippled with end-to-end complexity”.5 The pharmaceutical, clinical trial and food sectors have grown rapidly in the last decade, but has this pace been too much for India's cold chain infrastructure to keep pace with?

Intelsius India’s Mumbai-based Director, Chris Carvalho, explains: "India is an extremely complex market with several key challenges. Active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) and finished pharma are the two largest markets requiring cold chain logistics support, specifically packaging solutions. Most of these products are transported in active containers, pallet shippers for the export market, and long transit shippers (2-8°C and 15-25°C). However, a lack of stringent regulations makes this market a lot more challenging than it should be. Add into that the sheer scale, the heat, terrain and existing logistics infrastructure available to support the cold chain, it’s easy to run into problems unless you partner with the right organisations”.

In the Logistics Performance Index 2018 issued by the World Bank (an independent report which looks at numerous logistics performance factors before attributing a score), India ranked 44 with a mere 2.91 infrastructure rating (Germany ranked one with a score of 4.37). India's low logistics performance has been attributed to a lack of advanced technologies and poor optimisation of supply chain drivers such as modern transportation, information, and warehousing.

One of the issues facing the Indian logistics network is its overreliance on road transport, with over 71% of freight travelling by road.6 With a country the size of and with the topography of India recording extremely hot temperatures, an overreliance on road freight contributes to spoiled cargo and difficulties in shipping temperature-sensitive materials.

These issues were further highlighted by COVID-19, with the pandemic exposing most Indian firms to severe supply chain disruptions due to undiscovered cold chain vulnerabilities. Moreover, these issues extend into the wider Indian Subcontinent, with Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka all sharing a similar climate, topography and cold chain infrastructure issues.

Opportunities Within the Indian Cold Chain Market

The cold chain industry in India is still in a developmental stage, making it one of the most promising fields in the cold chain warehousing and logistics industry. India is likely to be the world’s fastest-growing big economy this year and the world’s 5th largest by 2027.7 And, as an established key player in the global pharmaceutical and vaccine manufacturing market, investment into India’s supply chain infrastructure is likely to increase year-on-year.

The global cold chain logistics market size was valued at $159,988.1 million in 2018 and is projected to reach $585,105.6 million by 2026, with the Asia-Pacific region holding the largest market share both in 2019 and in the 2026 projection.8 As investment grows, so will the need for experts in cold chain management, transport, storage and packaging to inject their collective expertise, products and services into this growing market.

But what about technology: IoT, Industry 4.0, blockchain and a wide range of tech evolutions in logistics are yet to truly land and make their mark on the Indian supply chain. Connecting the dots within the Indian cold chain will require the skills of logistics experts, packaging manufacturers and new technology developers.

But success stories from the Indian cold chain sector do exist. Indian farm-to-fork start-up, Superplum developed a digital cold chain logistics solution, allowing them to monitor and control key parameters such as temperature and humidity while their temperature-sensitive payload was in transit. After successfully testing the solution, Superplum are expanding the use of these self-powered logistics solutions, enabling them to overcome extremely challenging shipping lanes without compromising their product.9

At Intelsius, we pride ourselves on overcoming challenges with innovative solutions. We work with several expert partners to create bespoke packaging or kitting solutions, investing in drone technology, IoT packaging and designing and delivering end-to-end cold chain solutions that overcome extreme shipping lane challenges.

Intelsius Cold Chain Solutions: Cold Chain Packaging Experts

Intelsius have a global footprint, with offices and suppliers on every continent, helping some of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical and healthcare providers deliver their products and samples safely and compliantly through some of the world’s most challenging shipping lanes.

Intelsius India are based in central Mumbai and service all of India with the full range of Intelsius temperature-controlled and sample transport packaging solutions. As well as offering off-the-shelf high-performance cold chain packaging and Category A and B compliant sample transport packaging solutions for a variety of payload types, our Indian office are supported by Intelsius’ expert Technical Team, who can work with you to establish your needs, and develop a bespoke packaging solution no matter the payload or shipping lane.

Temperature-Controlled Packaging

Intelsius India supplies cold chain packaging solutions, including pallet shippers, parcel shippers and hand-held personal medicine carriers. These solutions span -20°C with dry ice to 2-8°C and 15-25°C temperature ranges and can come pre-qualified to your specifications.

Click here to find out more.

Sample Transport

We’re experts in designing and manufacturing UN Category A and B sample transport packaging. So if you’re shipping blood, urine, tissue or swab samples, we have a solution for you.

Click here to find out more.

Expert Technical Support

As an ISTA-certified laboratory, we can design and test your packaging with your payload and shipping lane in mind. Our expert Technical Team have a track record for delivering bespoke solutions for a range of payload types, including finished pharmaceuticals and human samples.

Our team of product designers and scientists will work with you to establish the best possible solution for your payload, ensuring full compliance and the safety of your temperature-sensitive payload no matter the shipping lane.

Click here to find out more.

Get in Touch

If you’re planning to ship or are already shipping temperature-sensitive products to, from, or within the Indian Subcontinent, we have a range of proven temperature-controlled packaging solutions and expertise that could support your cold chain.

Click here to contact our team with your query, or contact our Indian team directly:

Phone +91 22 49746536


External References

1. Expert Market Research (2021) – Indian Cold Chain Market Outlook

2. Expert Market Research (2021) – Indian Cold Chain Market Outlook

3. India Brand Equity Foundation (2022) – Pharmaceutical Industry Report

4. The Hindu (2022) - Improving Cold Chain Systems

5. Bio Spectrum Media (2022) – India’s Pharma Supply Chain is Crippled With End-to-End Complexity

6. The Hindu Business Line (2021) - Bridging the Gap in Logistics Infrastructure

7. The Economist (2022) - India is Likely to be the World’s Fastest-Growing Big Economy This Year

8. Bio Spectrum Media (2022) – India’s Pharma Supply Chain is Crippled With End-to-End Complexity

9. Food Navigator (2021) – Modernising India’s Cold Chain

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