Scientific and modern medical advancements have made increasingly longer life spans for humans a reality. Expanding economies and a rising median income level has allowed consumers around the world better access and ability to demand the medication that leads to a healthier and happier life.
Thailand is one of these developing countries where a rise in purchasing power has led to a spike in demand for pharmaceutical products locally, as well as a thriving medical tourism industry that attracts many from abroad. While Thailand does produce some of their own pharmaceutical products, the country still relies heavily on overseas pharmaceutical producers for more advanced and valuable medicines. To feed this growing appetite consumers have for pharma products, the country has become a large importer of pharmaceutical goods.
To support this ever-growing demand, specialized experts are needed to handle cargo as precious, valuable and sensitive as pharmaceuticals. To get a deeper perspective, we recently spoke with Mr. Chris Reichert, Operations Director at Freshport Asia, to discuss the challenges in handling pharmaceutical cargo and how their Cool Care import service can provide pharmaceutical imports the extra vital care it needs.
A Race Against Time
The rise in demand Thailand has seen for medicine goes beyond just domestic consumption. A recent Kasikorn Research Center study showed that medical tourism accounted for over 30 percent of Thai private hospital total revenue in 2015, and continues to grow with blooming joint ventures between the government and many private hospitals. As the pace of pharmaceuticals imports rises in Thailand, stricter handling services are needed to ensure cargo is brought in safely. Airfreight is the chosen mode for the more valuable pharma products, but even this possesses many challenges and risks for major losses in both product and capital.
Mr. Reichert heads the Cool Care team of cool chain experts at Freshport. They operate inside the BFS Cargo terminal at Suvarnabhumi Airport and are easily accessible by contacting the BFS customer care team. Mr. Reichert explains that a piece of cargo is most at risk of damage when left exposed to the extreme heat out on the tarmac. “The heat from being exposed to the sun on the hot tarmac can raise the temperature on the surface of the cargo above 40 degrees Celsius after just 10 minutes of exposure. This critical stage of the handoff point is where the Cool Care team makes a huge difference. We’re able to be there airside and with our hands-on approach we’re able to fast track cargo from the aircraft to the cargo facility and into cold storage.”
While some medicines are less temperature sensitive than others; the more valuable ones are often the most sensitive to temperature fluctuations. For example, pill products are normally very light and not as temperature sensitive. While at the other end of the spectrum, vials of vaccines or liquids are the kind of cargo that cannot be legally sold after being kept a few degrees out of specification. The compensation process for this type of cargo also causes a lot of time and money to be lost, which is something nobody wants.
The heat from being exposed to the sun on the hot tarmac can raise the temperature on the surface of the cargo above 40 degrees Celsius after just 10 minutes of exposure. This critical stage of the handoff point is where the Cool Care team makes a huge difference. – Mr. Chris Reichert, Operations Director at Freshport Asia (Freshport).
“The standard process for imports is that all shipments are handled the same way, regardless of what’s inside,” said Mr. Reichert. “You’re relying on the next person to do their job. There are different teams of the operation, like the ground handling team and cargo team, who have to work together for a smooth transition. However, if one team does have a mishap or is delayed for any reason, it has a cascading effect that causes bottle necks throughout the entire handling process as more and more import care arrives; this can be disastrous for sensitive pharma cargo.”
Solutions for Cargo & Cost Savings
Cool Care cargo handling service is Freshport’s specialty, and for imports their Cool Care service begins the moment the aircraft touches down. The Freshport team is on-site and ready to receive their Cool Care client’s cargo, and they take care of it until the cargo is handed over to the next party in line, per each client’s request. Mr. Reichert explained the process further, “The Cool Care service is comprised of three main areas, the first one is protection. When you go to the aircraft, and if the cargo is not contained in a refrigerated ULD, we put a cover on it immediately because of how hot it is on the tarmac.” Mr. Reichert stressed again how critical this point is, where cargo left uncovered for even just 10 to 15 minutes on the tarmac has a high risk of being damaged. “The second major area is speed. The cargo needs to be taken from the aircraft to the cool room as soon as possible so it’s given a priority status and fast tracked. Not just to the cargo terminal, but into the cool room as quickly as possible. Lastly, it’s imperative to make sure everything is followed through step-by-step, and that every stage is supervised,” said Mr. Reichert.
In addition to these standard services, Freshport also offers value-added services and tools to its pharmaceutical clients who may require each stage of the cargo handling process to be tracked. “This is where we rely on the customers to tell us exactly what they want. We have our standard procedures, which is based on protection, speed and supervision. But we always ask our customers for any specific needs in each stage of handling. We ask if they need temperature monitoring, data logging, photographs, forced air cooling, thermal protection, and if they’d like us to break the cargo down or re-palletize it. We also offer full reporting throughout the handling process with temperature readings, photos and a timeline at key stages, so customers have full transparency when in our care. Whatever our clients need, we listen and let them know if we can do it. It’s very rare that our clients ask us for something beyond our capability, we can almost always find a solution to meet their needs and that’s the core of our business.” Mr. Reichert explained.
A Little Trust Goes a Long Way
When asked how the Cool Care service had made a tangible difference for Freshport’s pharmaceutical clients, Mr. Reichert told us a story about a regular customer of theirs. “One of our early customers had a meeting with an airline about a critical situation with their pharmaceutical imports. The first question the customer posed was what could be done to resolve their customer’s temperature fluctuation problem, because they were on the verge of losing their contract. The airline kindly brought me in to sit in on the meeting and advise if I could.”
Mr. Reichert continued, “The airline manager then asked me for my thoughts on the situation. I told them about our Cool Care import service, and that we could support them in anything else they would need. I asked them to take a chance and let me show them the type of care we could offer in this situation, for which they then agreed. The next shipment came in we did our thing and the feedback to our service came back very positively. In a follow up meeting they mentioned how the shipment we handled was the first one of the last four shipments that had not received a complaint or a problem reported on. Since then, they have been a regular customer of ours and we’ve been doing the same rock solid service for them shipment after shipment for the last two years now. I’d like to believe we helped save the agent his high value contract with this very reputable pharmaceutical company.”
Whatever our clients need, we listen and let them know if we can do it. It’s very rare that our clients ask us for something beyond our capability, we can almost always find a solution to meet their needs and that’s the core of our business
n this way, Freshport is in a unique position. They are a neutral party in between the players in the industry and they act as a local partner for shippers, airlines or agents looking to offer a true end-to-end solution for quality supply chains. “BFS Cargo offers the Coolcare range of services to their customers to promote best practice and have entrusted the handling process to the expertise of Freshport,” Mr. Reichert said. More than just a handling agent, their airside service is unlike any other in Thailand. They deliver a distinct advantage and security in knowing that a valuable cool cargo shipment is being taken care of throughout the entire process.
The airfreight industry has been in a bit of a slump for the last few years, and yet despite this Freshport continues to grow. Mr. Reichert said, “We’ve been growing steadily every year between 10-15 percent, and we’re on pace this year to hit those same marks again. Judging from how we’ve done already in January, and if that continues, we may even exceed our record this year.”
The future certainly is looking bright for Mr. Reichert and his operation at Freshport. Import volumes are continuing to rise for Cool Care cargo shipments to Thailand and they are in a perfect position to take advantage of this continually expanding market.
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