The world’s increasing demand for fresh food, especially from Asia’s growing middle class, is driving the revival of cold chain management.

The world’s hunger for bananas, meat, and fish are central to this growth; along with other temperature-controlled products such as pharmaceuticals and electronics.

Fresh foods are transported year-round, to satiate the appetites of Asia’s thriving middle class. These newly affluent foodies are willing to pay a premium for seasonal fruits and vegetables, along with imported meats and seafood. Fresh food is shipped from the southern hemisphere suppliers in South America, Australia and New Zealand, to hungry consumers in Asia and all the way north to Europe.

The ocean reefer is one cold chain solution seeing a direct benefit from this increase in appetite. According to global shipping consultancy, Drewry, global ocean reefer trade continues to expand, posting a gain of over 5% in 2017 to 124 million tonnes. These gains are a significant improvement on the past 10 years’ growth of 3.6% a year.

There has been a shift to containerised reefer traffic from the traditional specialised reefer fleet. In a recent statement, Drewry’s director of research products Martin Dixon said, “This modal shift in favour of container shipping lines is expected to continue as the specialised fleet shrinks further. Indeed, the specialised sector’s share of total seaborne reefer trade is forecast to fall from 20% today to just 14% for 2022, with container lines picking up the slack.”

Such is the demand, that reefer rates are on the rise, defying wider shipping market trends. In the same statement, Drewry analysts estimated rates for containerised reefer freight rose by 3% in 18 months leading to the second quarter of 2018; by comparison, dry box rates fell 14% during the same period.

In August, German shipping line Hapag-Lloyd announced an order for 11,100 additional reefer containers. Delivery of this new capacity would start in August, with all units delivered by December 2018. Speaking of the purchase, Clemens Holz, Director Reefer Products at Hapag-Lloyd, commented, “We see increasing demand from clients to transport temperature-sensitive goods. To benefit from additional opportunities in this attractive market segment, we have decided to increase our reefer fleet.”

2000 of Hapag-Lloyd’s new units are fitted with controlled atmosphere technology and optimised power control. These units will consume significantly less energy, without any change in performance and temperature precision.

The technology that supports reefers is evolving and growing. In September, French carrier CMA CGM announced the launch of CLIMATIVE, a new reefer technology with an actively controlled environment. This technology works to reduce the oxygen inside the reefer container, maintaining the freshness of sensitive commodities such as fruit and vegetables. This specialised reefer not only aims to help produce stay fresh longer but reduces the maturation process, allowing fresh freight to travel further.

Maesrk offers a similar reefer product, Starcare™, another controlled atmosphere product designed to slow down the ripening of fresh produce. To achieve this, the Starcare™ unit continuously regulates the temperature and humidity within the container. It also works to maintain the correct levels of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen. A remote system also allows customers to monitor the conditions of the container while it’s in transit.

While the ocean reefer market is traditionally focused on fresh food cargo at peak times such as harvesting season, shipping companies are also transporting quantities of high-value pharmaceuticals and other temperature-sensitive goods. Attracting a more diverse range of products will ensure year-round utilisation of reefer containers.