Skip links

Maritime Refrigerated Cargo Stops 10-Year Growth Streak

In 2021 it registered a barely 1.9% increase, without reaching projections.


A marked slowdown has gripped all charges, with the reefer sector feeling the effects of an abrupt halt in its 10-year run of CAGR 3%. According to the data, the refrigerated cargo barely marked an expansion of 1.9% reaching 137.4 million tons, a adjusted revision of the estimates of analysts who placed growth for last year at 138.1 million tons, as revealed by the maritime consultancy Drewry in its webinar “Reefer shipping market Outlook”, based on the highlights of the report Reefer Shipping Forecaster & Annual Review 3Q22, which was presented in mid-September by Martin Dixon, Head of Research Products and Ferenc Pasztor, Deputy Head of Research.

The road to 2026

Volatility seems to be setting the tone for the maritime cargo recovery path, and 2026 is the projected date for the return of the historic 3% CAGR holding, as the growth estimate for 2022 stands at just 1%. “In 2020 we saw a slowdown to the point of stagnation and then a rebound in 2021. This year growth has slowed,” says Dixon. In terms of commoditi4es groups, “meat remains number one with 22% of the market followed by bananas with 15% and fish with 13%,” adds the expert from Drewry, who adds that Asia will continue to be the main destination of the reefer cargo by 2026.

Containerized effect

Among the effects of the slowdown in the growth of reefer cargo, liquid bulk and specialized reefers will give way to the expansion of refrigerated containers, which by 2025 will operate more than 90% of the business globally. As such, the volume of refrigerated containers is expected to increase by 3.7% CAGR during the said period, where containerized volumes are expected to exceed the 6 million mark by 2024. “Container ships are taking a large share of the reefer trade (…) as the specialized reefer fleet is aging and more than 40% exceeds 30 years. The traffic of the specialized fleet is expected to begin to decrease at a CAGR rate of -3.8% by 2026,” adds the head of research products.

In line with the departure of the specialized fleet, there was a record production of refrigerated containers in 2021; however, 2022 projects a slowdown in growth before recovery in 2023 and a sustained increase towards 2026.

Capacity imbalance

As with all types of cargo, empty containers are needed in production areas. However, supply chain disruptions continue with port congestion and delays in itineraries, compromising container availability and causing an imbalance. In particular, South America, Central America and the Caribbean and North America show the most notorious negative imbalances with -665,000 feu (-92%), -300,000 (-70%), and -62,000 (-13%), respectively. Most empty reefer containers are trapped in Asia, where there is a surplus of +1.11,000 feu / +90% and Europe which has a surplus of +110,000 feu / +13%. “The imbalances of the southern hemisphere are a feature of the shipping reefer business, but as the pressure on dry cargo decreases, the repositioning of reefer containers becomes easier. Asia continues to be the area that needs to evacuate equipment to regions of demand. Europe has again become a surplus area for reefer growers since the protein shipments to Asia have been reduced,” explains the expert.

As for freight rates, compared to dry cargo containers, refrigerated rates have remained less volatile but would have already peaked at 4Q21, showing a stable decline projected for next year.

While the effects of Covid and the economic slowdown are continually changing, there will be a revised version of these forecasts in October for a more accurate projection that contemplates trade in general.




Leave a comment