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Cargo is our lifestyle.

Penta Freight in India has earned itself a reputation as one of the country’s best forwarding agencies for pharmaceuticals over a period of 25 years. It is a success story that has its roots in the airline past of the company’s two founders.

You can watch a portrait about Penta Freight on the YouTube channel of Lufthansa Cargo.

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White and some orange dominate the interior of the open-plan offices. Solid, well-proportioned room dividers with rounded corners are reminiscent of ­Apple’s design philosophy. Special ­accents are set here and there: a historic aviation photograph, a door offset in a contrasting color, the statue of an Indian deity. White desks and monitors heighten the impression of cleanliness and tidiness. It is an ambience that is a suitable setting for the activity of the people who work here – their job chiefly is to look after the transportation of pharmaceuticals and chemicals by airfreight.

The Penta Freight head office on the 9th floor of the Times Square skyscraper on Andheri-Kurla Road in Mumbai would stand a very good chance of winning an interior design competition for office spaces. Everything is clean and clear, yet without looking sterile. Here tradition and modernity link up in an intelligent manner. The result is a workplace atmosphere where each and every individual can breathe freely while still being fully integrated into the team.

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These austere yet chic offices are, for the time being, the crowning glory of 25 years’ hard work in the airfreight industry. When Shashi Narayan Kanchan and Prasannan Watson Kurup established Penta Freight a quarter of a century ago, they shared a mini-office inside a warehouse. It was all the two cargo managers could afford at the time, having traded good jobs with established airlines for a sense of professional freedom. Today 140 personnel work for Penta Freight. Branches have been established in the major hubs of India’s pharma industry. ­Besides – and this is the company’s most vital asset – the extremely demanding shippers in this industry sector entrust Penta Freight with their products, as do some of the country’s leading chemical companies.

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“Isn’t it fabulous, the kind of opportunities airfreight has opened up?” says Prasannan Kurup. “Without this industry sector, fully geared as it is towards internationality, and ­without these people who live and breathe the cargo spirit, our success story would not have been possible.” His ­co-Managing Director Shashi Kanchan is just as enthusiastic: “This industry has become our home. This is where we have built an existence for ourselves. Our personnel are considered more of a family and many of them have been associated with us for fifteen years or more.”

Penta Freight – “penta” is the Greek word for “five”. The name stands for the five core values that have made this company great: integrity, responsibility, diligence, perseverance and discipline. In addition to this exemplary work ethic and 25 years’ experience, India’s pharmaceuticals industry and its strong strategic position in the global market has also played a major role in Penta Freight’s success story.

The industry draws its strength not least from the very size of its domestic market. Experts believe that the country with its 1.3 billion people will move into the top 3 of the world’s major pharmaceuticals markets by the year 2020. India has a vast number of companies manufacturing pharmaceutical raw materials, medicinal drugs and vaccines. The only country boasting more internationally certified production facilities is the United States. In addition, there certainly is no shortage of well trained pharmacologists and chemists. These are the strengths that have enabled India to join the top group of pharma-exporting countries worldwide. 

Generic drugs are one example. India has for decades had comparatively lax patent laws, ensuring that the masses get timely and affordable access to important medicines. The result is that the Indian pharmaceutical industry was able to specialize in this area at an early stage and export generic drugs in ­increasing volumes thanks to favorable production costs.

The industry sector’s growth has accelerated further in the years since 2011, when numerous patents on successful medicines expired in the United States and in Europe, including drugs for common diseases such as hypertension and cancer. At the same time, customs formalities for exports were streamlined. In this way India has been able to garner a 30-percent share of the global market for exports of generic drugs. However, a success story like this can only come with the help of an efficient international logistics operation of the sort that Penta Freight can provide to their customers.

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The company’s recently commissioned warehouse close to Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport is the only one of its kind in Mumbai, and the tidiness and clarity of its design is the same found at the Penta Freight headquarters: white walls, scrupulously clean, and with a strict separation of the shipments according their specific requirements into the various temperature-controlled rooms. The warehouse holds several dozen of the characteristic blue transport barrels sealed by the shippers and containing anti-inflammatory agents and antibiotics, as well as containers of vaccines and small batches of samples and ingredients for cancer drugs. The labels attached to the consignments give an indication of the most important target markets for Penta Freight: around 60 percent of the shipments are for destinations in the United States, 20 percent in ­Europe, 10 percent in Latin America, and 10 percent to Africa and South-East Asia.

“We invested a great deal of money in these premises so that we could raise the standard of quality for the transit storage for consignments even further,” says Prasannan Kurup. “However, we take most of the consignments directly from the shipper to the airport just in time, so as to speed up the process and minimize the impact of handling.” Transport is carried out by Penta Freight’s own fleet of refrigerated trucks. The consignments themselves are covered in thermal blankets and fitted with devices for recording the temperature. As part of their arrangements with airlines, handling agents and forwarders, Penta Freight makes sure that the shipments are always kept in appropriately temperature-controlled environments during the entire time they are in transit.

“We have already been cooperating closely with Lufthansa Cargo for two decades,” says Shashi Kanchan. “The quality of service, the constant availability of freight capacity, and full transparency in the way they deal with imponderables – these are the decisive advantages of this airline.” Penta Freight ships more than 4,500 metric tons of goods with Lufthansa Cargo each year. “We primarily use td.Pro and td.Flash. In addition, we use Cool-Passive and Cool-Active for temperature-sensitive products which need precise temperature to be maintained throughout transit. We fully depend on Lufthansa Cargo for their consistent performance,” says Prasannan Kurup.

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While the colorful, chaotic street life swirls around the suburbs near the airport, at Penta Freight they keep their cool at all times and stay focused on their path towards further growth and quality. Their next move will be to open their own offices in the United States, and later also in Europe. Shashi Kanchan: “We want to be part of the action with the top players in this segment. Even after 25 years, the best is yet to come!”

Photos: Ritam Banerjee