In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, global e-commerce sales have increased significantly, and many investors are rushing to set up businesses in countries they trade with, reports research firm, MarketWatch. E-commerce has given consumers access to goods and commodities, from imported groceries to trendy cosmetics, that were previously out of their reach. The basic perception of consumers regarding frozen and refrigerated food has also changed. With rapid urbanization and a booming internet economy in Southeast Asia, frozen food and other essentials are moving online fast to meet the growing demand.

According to Bain & Company, e-commerce and other digital trends accelerated by the pandemic will remain well into the future. The online groceries sector grew nearly three times during the outbreak in the region, and one in three users surveyed said they would continue buying their groceries over the internet. Total grocery spending in Southeast Asia is worth around USD 350 billion. Online grocery accounts for a fraction of that overall value, but it is gaining traction, industry experts say. For Alibaba-backed Lazada operating across the region, online grocery sales in Singapore jumped four times from early April since movement restrictions were implemented.

The significant rise in consumer demand for door-to-door delivery has also led to an urgent need for innovations in fresh food delivery to overcome capacity and infrastructure limitations and provide safe, high-quality products.

Product Quality and Integrity

For cold chain products, maintaining texture and taste is top priority, and this becomes critical should a shipment stray from recommended temperatures. Premium products entering the market have a short shelf life, and are even more sensitive to temperature. Focusing on quality and consumer experience means refrigerated warehouses across the food cold chain must maintain as many as five different temperature zones.

Some shippers use removable sensors to independently track the temperature of their cold cargo, usually for high-value goods and international shipments. The Korea Research Institute of Chemical Technology (KRICT), for example, has developed a cost-effective and flexible Cold Chain Safety Sticker. The sticker automatically detects temperature in cold chain storage facilities and turn transparent to indicate spoilage in meat.

Cold-Chain Safety Sticker automatically indicates food spoilage (Image: KRICT)

Coalition of Cold Chain Logistics

Cold chain networks serve as the de rigueur link between producers and retailers, ensuring last mile delivery of temperature-sensitive foods such as fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and poultry in the desired quality and quantity.

In Singapore, global companies like DHL are not only investing in cold chain facilities but are also encouraging and persuading local brands to join the market. In Malaysia, Tasco, a subsidiary of Yusen Logistics, has acquired two major cold chain service providers. Corporations in Japan are pressing for the creation of a supply chain by setting up bases for land transportation in ASEAN for the manufacturing and distribution of consumer goods and services.

Tasco’s cold chain facility (Image: LinkedIn)