Swedish cool chain container manufacturer Envirotainer is returning to its roots in pharma. CEO Thomas Persson explains why the company’s growing line of heating and cooling containers represents a lower risk choice for clients.

At a time when reliable cool chain services are becoming more important to drug manufacturers, one company in the field is putting renewed emphasis on the needs of its pharmaceutical clients. After successfully branching out into other areas such as luxury food and mobile phone delivery, Sweden based Envirotainer is drawing on its long history in the pharmaceutical industry to offer a new range of products to the sector.

CEO Thomas Persson is digging deep for new ideas to better serve the company’s partners. Persson has been working to get a better picture of the cool chain from the moment a product leaves the factory door until it arrives at its destination. That means understanding the needs of manufacturers themselves as well as those of the logistics providers. "We are really focussing on pharma and developing better services, products and hardware for the pharma industry and for our clients among the couriers and airlines," he says. "We have seen that we need to understand the customer’s customer and that’s why we talk so much about pharma focus."

To support this focus Envirotainer convenes a bi-annual advisory board with members from 17 pharmaceutical industry companies. The advisory board works to supplement the conversations the company’s sales teams have with clients every day. By working closely with the industry, Envirotainer has been able to better focus its R&D activities. "We understand how important it is to have the pharmaceutical companies in the loop in the early stage before we have spent too much money on development," Persson says.

The reason for this drive is the increasing value and complexity of pharmaceutical products. As lead times become longer, losing a batch in transit could cause a major delay and put patients’ lives at risk. For producers, each batch of a product represents a significant investment, so finding ways of minimising the chance of losses during transit is important. The solution is to not only develop more reliable containers but also to opt for containers that can both heat and cool their contents.

The most common method of ensuring the temperature of products is by using dry ice, but dry ice containers rely on handling procedures and supervision to avoid low external temperature causing damage to the shipped products. Envirotainer is investing in the development of a fleet of containers that can both heat and cool their contents. The company’s flagship model is the RKN e1, which can maintain a steady internal temperature whether it’s standing on the tarmac at an airport in Dubai or Stockholm.

Once transits to and from airports and any delays at customs are factored in, even a journey within Europe can take more than 48 hours. The RKN e1’s battery can power the system for up to 100 hours and can be fully recharged in eight hours from a normal plug socket. This stamina means no journey is too long and gives clients’ cool chains a truly global reach. "The autonomy of it means, you can more or less leave it standing outside and it works regardless of the ambient temperature, for hours and hours and hours," Persson explains. "So it’s less vulnerable when you reload or unload or offload or transit at an airport, which is usually where the biggest problems are."

Envirotainer still has 2,600 dry ice containers compared to 368 heating and cooling containers but Persson believes the latter will increasingly become a more attractive prospect for his clients. In January the company was acquired by AAC Capital Partners, providing finance to fuel growth. The key to this growth will be investment in more battery-powered containers. Last year 80 RKN e1 containers were added to its fleet and this year there are plans to introduce 100 more. "We’ll probably build another 100 when those first 100 are on the market," Persson adds.

These ambitious plans are especially impressive given that other service providers and subcontractors in all industries have struggled through the downturn. By expanding now, Envirotainer should be well placed to increase its market share in the coming months and position itself as a reliable partner of the pharmaceutical industry.