Rajat started TESSOL in 2013 with the vision to revolutionize the farm to fork cold chain in India. Over the last 4 years, TESSOL has grown to be recognized as a pioneer in the sustainable cold chain space globally. Rajat has a strong inclination towards technology and passion for product development. Hebrings in a deep understanding of product design, technology commercialization and market entry strategy and has been instrumental in leading the organization from its inception to date as its CEO. He brings with him extensive experience in the energy space across India, Europe and the USA. A mechanical engineer from IIT Delhi (2003) and an MBA from Harvard Business School (2010), Rajat has extensive experience in the energy space and has worked with several early-stage startups, multinationals and venture funds across India, Europe and the US.
Fresh food demand and supply chains are rapidly evolving in India. While there was a momentum towards direct to customer supplies starting in 2018-19, post COVID, this has become the focus of all supply chain companies in India. With the growth of e-commerce and last mile delivery companies like Swiggy, Zomato, Dunzoetc, one no more needs to be a large brand with marketing budgets and supply chains to reach your product to the customer. However, these growth opportunities do not come without creating significant challenges for the operations and supply chain and therefore need to look for new / alternate solutions.
One such area that has required a significant fundamental thinking through is the cold supply chain. Traditionally cold chain has implied refrigerated trucks moving products from one point to the other. Typically, these refrigerated trucks would pick up a minimum of 500 kg to 1 ton of product and deliver to various destinations across the city or country. The challenge with new-commerce is typically the size of the package and the fact that it may be the only cold chain package amongst the many ambient packages being distributed. Therefore, cold chain technology of reefer trucks does not work in these scenarios, and we need something that is:
- Independent of the vehicle form (bike, 3-wheeler or a 4 wheeler) and package size
- Able to maintain temperature without a connection to a power source
- Can maintain temperature from 1 hour (hyperlocal) till 48 hours (intercity courier)
Solutions based on Phase Change Technology, or “Thermal batteries” have become very popular in this context. These are engineered chemicals with specific freezing and melting points (ranging from +18oC for use in chocolates to -25o for use in Ice creams). Unlike the earlier used glycols, these materials are designed to be nontoxic non-flammable – and therefore suitable to be packed along with food products. These are used inside a plastic pouch or a bottle (Like a gel pack) and kept in a freezer for a few hours. Once frozen, these can be put inside an insulated bag or a box and they can maintain temperatures for a desired period of time. Pictures in figure 1 show various forms in which these solutions are being used.
Unlike the earlier options of gel packs and Dry ice, these solutions give a very accurate temperature control and therefore are more effective that even a reefer truck for high frequency distribution. In the same box, different temperatures can be maintained by using different PCM packs or cartridges depending upon the product to be delivered. This provides flexibility in operations and a much higher asset utilization without being dependent upon dedicated assets like reefer trucks.
From an economics perspective, the capex and opex are upto 50% lower compared to a refrigerated truck. Also one incurs costs only for what one uses and not the whole vehicle. These factors give this solution unparalleled economic advantage and ensure a cost effective delivery every time to the customer.
Also called passive cooled logistics solutions, these units are virtually maintenance free. The box or the bag does not contain any moving parts and therefore chances of damage and downtime are virtually negligible. The units can range from 2 liters all the way to 2000 liters giving size flexibility to users.
Finally, these solutions eliminate the use of fossil fuels which have conventionally been driving the cold chain. Therefore, these are not only economically viable, but also environmentally sustainable.
PCM technology-based solutions offer a possibility of disruption in the cold chain logistics industry which was largely asset driven and designed for the western world which has a different demography and retail infrastructure. The new commerce is not only looking for new technology alternatives but also inspiring the traditional Kirana commerce to evolve along with it. The proliferation of dark stores is one such activity being pursued by most organized retailers to improve their access and reduce delivery times. We are also seeing an increased interest in brands building a distributor to Kirana / retail store cold chain using these simple solutions.
I strongly believe that these sustainable and affordable solutions offer a large opportunity for Indian cold chain and fresh food delivery. This can completely revolutionize the way food movement happens and can bring in new business models for existing and new logistics as well as food companies. As this space matures and volumes grow, adaptation to new technologies and innovation will be critical to win the race.