Godrej's Hot Bet on Cold Storage
Fortune India|March 2021
The Covid-19 pandemic has amplified the importance of cold-chain infrastructure, and Godrej Appliances’ medical refrigeration business is making the most of the opportunity.
GINA KRISHNAN

THE CREATION OF A HIGHLY specialised unit, Godrej Medical Refrigeration, at Godrej Appliances was the result of a couple of events happening at the same time. “It was around 2015 that we were having an interaction at a seminar with stakeholders, NGOs, and institutions to understand the challenges in the refrigeration space… and a gap in the medical refrigeration space was discussed extensively,” recalls Kamal Nandi, business head and vice president, Godrej Appliances, and a veteran Godrej hand. Retaining vaccine potency and preventing wastage due to breaches caused by power outages was imperative, they realised.

Around the same time, Sure Chill, a U.K.-based startup, had developed a cooling technology and was willing to license it out.

One thing literally led to the other and the company bought the Sure Chill technology and, in the process, acquired the cold-chain infrastructure focus that has become unexpectedly relevant and critical in the age of the Covid-19 pandemic. Consider how, in recent months, pharma companies and governments have joined forces to roll out the much-awaited vaccines. As recently as on February 9, Godrej Appliances launched its most advanced line of refrigerators with temperatures varying from 2° C-8° C, below -80° C, and -20° C. It is aware that mRNA-based vaccines to combat Covid-19 are temperature-sensitive and must be stored at very low temperatures. Pfizer, for instance, whose vaccine is being administered in the U.S. and the U.K., among other countries, needs to be stored at -70° C. (There are still no plans for an India roll-out although the infrastructure is now available.)

“The vaccination drive has made everyone realize the importance of a strong healthcare infrastructure,” pointed out Jamshyd Godrej, chairman of Godrej & Boyce, which owns Godrej Appliances, during the February 9 launch. “Over ₹35,000 crores has been budgeted for Covid-19 vaccination expenditure alone. And coupled with the overall strengthening of the medical infrastructure, we expect the vaccine cold chain in the country to get a big boost.”

The challenge is that although manufacturers of the vaccines have made chemical changes to the synthetic mRNA and wrapped it in a protective layer, they need to be stored at temperatures as low as below -80° C. During normal usage, when medical supplies are accessed from the refrigerator, ambient air can enter the storage chamber, raising the temperature and destroying molecules of mRNA vaccines. Sure Chill-lined refrigerators ensure that the rise in temperature is quickly absorbed by the cold walls to maintain the chamber temperature.

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