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Vaccines will heat up freezer stocks

Nirgunan Tiruchelvam
Nirgunan Tiruchelvam • 4 min read
Vaccines will heat up freezer stocks
Investors could profit from red-hot freezer producers given Covid vaccines are expected to begin rolling out in early 2021.
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Frederic Tudor was an American businessman who died 156 years ago. But, his impact may exceed his wildest fantasy.

He was the founding father of the magic ingredient — refrigeration — that could end the pandemic: the Covid-19 vaccines need to be stored at very low temperatures.

Tudor was born to a family of professionals in Boston in 1783. Despite his family’s accomplishments, ice was his calling.

The “Ice Man” was passionate about making refrigeration accessible to the masses. In the early 1800s, ice was rarely used. A few ice-users preserved food and cooled cocktails. However, ice was only available where it was harvested. It was not portable.

Ice was then an obscure luxury, and it was unheard of in the poorer parts of the West. Only the rich had access to it.

Tudor saw the immense potential of ice. With ice, you could preserve meat, fish and dairy. If you cannot preserve food, it has to be eaten immediately. If not, it will go bad.

Tudor founded the Wenham Lake Ice Company in 1830. It pioneered moving ice from the ice centres of America.

Ice was plentiful and freely available in the Boston area. People used to keep ice as a preservative in the summer. Tudor figured that people in places that lacked ice like Florida, Cuba, England and India would pay for it.

His first shipment confused British customs officials. They did not know how to classify the ice. All 300 tonnes melted while the officials argued.

However, he had an icy determination to bring ice to the masses. He championed methods that allowed ice to travel from Boston to Bombay.

After suffering years of suspicion, ice finally became a hot commodity. By the 1850s, ice was America's largest export by weight. By 1865, over 65% of Boston households had ice delivered daily. Novelties like chilled beer and ice cream emerged.

The need for ice inspired another innovation in the 1900s – the domestic fridge. Fridges and freezers became an essential part of food preservation.

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Freezers may now help end the pandemic. Last week, Pfizer announced a vaccine. Moderna followed suit this week. The rollout of the vaccines could begin in early 2021.

The market jumped with delight at the news, but the upbeat sentiment may be premature. The vaccines have a catch: the Pfizer vaccine needs to be stored at –70°C. The requirement for the Moderna vaccine is even lower, at –100°C.

This is an exceptionally low temperature. The freezer in your refrigerator can operate at –10°C at most. The temperature required for the vaccine is similar to that required for storing corpses.

This means that there will be an urgent need for freezing infrastructure. Pfizer says that it has its own freezers, but it will not be enough.

Most of the cost of vaccination is for cold storage. The spread of vaccination will be tough in poor countries, where infrastructure is weak. In India, which has the second largest number of Covid-19 cases, freezing infrastructure can support only 5% of the population.

Medical freezer suppliers are in demand. Fedex and other logistical companies operate cold chains. But, they lack the scale to meet the massive demand.

There are listed freezer makers in Asia. Some of them produce industrial freezers that can distribute the vaccines. Others are consumer electronics makers that mainly make fridges. These companies could upgrade.

Twinbird Corp, a Japanese consumer electronics maker, has risen 53% on the back of the Pfizer announcement. Its freezer boxes use helium-based technology. Its Free Piston Stirling Cooler will be subsidised by the Japanese government for use in poor countries.

Snowman Logistics is a cold chain operator in India. It supports the country’s dairy and meat industry. Snowman has 31 warehousing facilities in 15 cities. It is likely to face a tsunami of demand.

In South Korea, Daihan Scientific is one of the market leaders in the field. Most of its customers are in the bioscience field. Daihan has been preparing for the vaccine bonanza since the pandemic rose its ugly head.

Consumer electronics companies such Qingdao Haier, Singer Thailand and Hisense Kelon could also step in. These companies make household fridges and freezers.

Tudor’s ice foray may help end the pandemic, and investors could profit from the red-hot freezer producers.

Nirgunan Tiruchelvam is head of consumer sector equity at Tellimer (Exotix Capital)

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