27 May 2014

Preserve and protect, Extend and connect - apply sensibly

Essentially, the cold-chain is tasked with two underlying functions - to “Preserve and Protect” and to “Extend and Connect”. Let us explore these two distinctions and by understanding them, the approach to cold-chain development may merit certain changes.

First, let us clearly differentiate the type of products that benefit from the cold-chain.

In further simplifying, we can consider two extremes from a choice of product types... ice cream and fresh mangoes. The first symbolises the frozen (< -18 °C) segment and the other is from the mild chill (10-20 °C) segment. In the case of ice cream, the cold-chain functions to preserve the product, and in the case of mangoes the cold-chain serves to extend its prevailing, but short saleable life.

Ice-cream enumerates the cases where the product cannot last without the cold-chain. Without cold-chain technology to protect from inclement natural or ambient conditions, there is no ice-cream.

The cold-chain here has a preservative effect on the cargo or goods it protects – there is no extension of storage life, only that of preserving its existing state. In other product types the cold-chain either preserves the physical shape or protects from direct external degradation like meats, most processed foods, vaccines, many chemicals and plastics, electronic goods, etc.

Without the cold-chain, these products will rapidly decompose or decay, deform or lose their usable form or quality. Most such products, have undergone a production or manufacturing process and have a predetermined price assigned. The package expire-by-date or use-by-date is also predetermined and is maintained by subjecting it to predefined temperature parameters; the product quality and security and hence price, is safeguarded by the cold-chain to great accuracy.

Civilization took off when mankind harnessed the power of Fire; 
Now we are at our turning point and we must learn to harness the cold!
Here, a production unit or factory is usually the origin of the cold-chain, from the making of product to market. Quality & value is created at point of origin and that value is preserved for market realisation by cold-chain services.

Mangoes, on the other hand, have a natural saleable shelf life even without the cold-chain, and the cold chain is used to Extend the produce’s life cycle, buying more time to transact the sale. This same applies to fruits and vegetables in fresh form (primarily living perishables). Within the cold-chain, though the produce’s life cycle is extended, the produce continues on a perpetual, albeit retarded, downward spiral in its biological life cycle.

In such cases, the goods are normally harvested produce and do not undergo any process akin to manufacturing and have no marked “expire by date” or fixed pricing. Cold-chain is not used only to temporarily extend the saleable life (expiry), but also safeguards degrading of its nutrient quality and allows to connect to markets much before this extended life is overdue. The time extension is best utilised to connect with markets for better price realisation. 

Here, farm-gate pack-house is the origin of the cold-chain. Quality is as harvested, but value is determined at point of sale.  Cold-chain in such cases, should not procrastinate the selling transaction but extend and hasten the farm to fork selling cycle. 


Multiple variations of these two distinct benefits will be evidenced in strategies applied in commercial models. These two benefits overlap and correlate across some product categories.

-Pawanexh Kohli

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