MUMBAI: SEA-invest NV, the world’s top fruit terminal operator, is weighing plans to set up a facility with an automated warehouse and cold storage near a port in Mumbai or Kolkata in partnership with a local firm – this will enable the fruit terminal operator tap the huge potential in a market where fruits and vegetables worth thousands of crores go waste every year due to inadequate storage infrastructure.
The Ghent, Belgium-based group, handles over 5.5-million tonnes (mt) of fruits from its terminals located in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Ivory Coast and South Africa. Of this, 1.5 mt is handled at the Antwerp terminal, its largest.
“We are the largest fruit terminal in the world; nobody handles more fruit than us,” Johan Claes, the General Director who heads the fruit unit of SEA-invest, said recently
SEA-invest has a temperature-controlled storage capacity of 620,000 square metres that can accommodate 176,000 pallets, and a storage facility for deep-frozen products (-20°C) of 132,000 cubic metres. It offers value-added services such as quality control, packaging, truck delivery, custom formalities and phytosanitary controls. The fully automated and computer controlled systems in its terminals can track and trace each good individually, from harvest to final delivery.
“We are looking to do something in India close to a port,” said Claes. “It should be both for imports and exports because India is a big exporter and importer of fruits. But the area where they do exports is not the area where imports are handled.
Hence, there is a mismatch. There is a huge demand for cold storages in India, but nobody builds them, though the Indian Government is offering incentives for investing in cold chains,” he said.
Privately-owned SEA-invest is scouting for a “strong local partner, potentially a logistics company that has extensive knowledge of the India market” to do business together, said Claes.
SEA-invest is in talks with a Mumbai-based company for partnership, and is also taking the help of a Belgian firm to help enter the Indian market.
Profitability, according to Claes, is “still an issue in cold storages”. “I want to copy our model in South Africa into India,” he said.
South Africa had plenty of old cold storages that were not up to the standards. That aside, importing countries insist on a lot of protocols. For instance, Japan wants only cold-treated fruits to make sure there are no bugs inside, while fruits have to be sterilised before they are imported into the United States.
“We immediately jumped at the opportunity and invested in facilities that could cater to such requirements,” he said adding that India’s growing middle class should be willing to pay more for a “safe, healthy and top-quality product”.