During the pandemic, those previously unaware of the intricate distribution process of vaccines and pharmaceuticals learned a great deal about the complexity of the business, which involves cold-chain management and other massive logistical challenges.
Zuellig Pharma plays a pivotal role in this process in Asia. The company was founded a century ago in the Philippines and is today one of the largest healthcare-service groups in Asia, with a distribution network that covers nearly 350,000 clinics, hospitals, pharmacies, and modern trade outlets. Zuellig Pharma’s mission is to make healthcare more accessible to countries in the region by providing world-class distribution, commercial promotion, and digital services.
While working towards its mission, the company is also taking on the challenge of upholding sustainable practices while distributing goods that require utmost care and extremely low temperatures. As a result of its efforts, Zuellig Pharma was awarded the 2021 Gold Medal by sustainability ratings specialist EcoVadis, achieving a score that placed it among the top 1% of its industry.
For John Chou, Zuellig Pharma Taiwan’s managing director, sustainability begins at the company’s facilities. Zuellig Pharma has made excellent progress in transitioning to renewable energy through solar panel installations at its distribution centers. Now around one-third of the electricity consumed at its warehouse is generated by its own system.
Additionally, all Zuellig Pharma’s offices and facilities are equipped with LED lighting to save energy, Chou notes, further pointing out that the company has invested in automatic air conditioning and lighting systems to optimize energy consumption. “More importantly, we also have an automated reuse system for rainwater,” Chou continues. “I think it’s important not only to be energy-conscious but also water-conscious since water supply is an issue for an island like Taiwan.”
When asked about the most essential element for Zuellig Pharma to maintain its sustainable practices over the coming 50 years, Chou says it is to continue its digitization process.
“For the next 50 years, I believe we’ll face two major issues,” he notes. “The first is that labor costs in Taiwan will continue to increase. Second, we also perceive that client requirements will become more complicated. Figuring out how we can leverage technology to ensure that the whole system can handle complicated issues while remaining continuously productive and cost-effective will be major challenges for the industry.”
Zuellig Pharma plans to further accelerate its productivity and improve its existing infrastructure, including the complete replacement of its delivery vehicles with an electric fleet.
In the pharmaceutical industry, the provision of excellent logistics and distribution service is just as essential as research and development. Putting together relevant personnel, warehousing, vehicles, and the professional delivery of individually sealed COVID-19 vaccines is a challenging task.
In support of Taiwan’s fight against the pandemic, Zuellig Pharma Taiwan is assisting the government in accelerating the shipment of various resources, including COVID-19 vaccines, monoclonal antibodies, and screening kits – all requiring cold storage.
Zuellig Pharma actively cooperates with the government to carry out vaccine inspection and sealing to ensure product quality. In preparation for the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines that require -70 degrees Celsius storage, the company acquired 10 ultra-low temperature freezers capable of storing up to three million doses.
“One of the reasons we had the opportunity to help carry the COVID-19 vaccines is that we started early last year to ensure we’d have the sufficient capacity,” says Chou. “We were prepared from a very early stage.”
Zuellig’s cold chain system depends on advanced technology. Its temperature tracing and tracking system, eZLogistics, checks the temperature within an accurate range in real time from inbound arrival through storage, packaging, and even delivery to ensure the stability of the vaccines. The company’s cold chain capabilities also include the eZCooler, which extends the storage time of temperature-sensitive products in transit to five days, from two days using a traditional system.
Chou points out that the shift to Zuellig Pharma’s eZCooler system also has a positive environmental impact. The eZCooler system replaces the less sustainable dry ice and can be used up to 200 times, setting a high bar for other similar systems.
The eZCooler packaging solution is used during transportation to ensure the integrity of the more than four million doses of vaccines that have been delivered to over 250 medical institutions across Taiwan by the end of June – a feat that prompted Premier Su Tseng-chang to call Zuellig Pharma “the coolest team in Taiwan.”