CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly
August 17, 2019
Forward Thinking

Online grocery boom sparks cold storage land rush

CBRE says sector could grow by 50 percent over next five years.

Demand for cold-storage warehouses throughout the U.S. is poised to expand dramatically in response to the growth of online grocery sale, a report from real estate services and investment firm CBRE Group Inc. said today.

That trend could drive demand for up to 100 million square feet of cold-storage space over the next five years, a sharp spike for a sector that has only a modest 214 million square feet in estimated industrial space today, according to the report, "2019 U.S. Food on Demand Series: Cold Storage Logistics Unpacked."

CBRE's forecast is based on a projection by the Food Marketing Institute and Nielsen that groceries ordered online will account for 13 percent of total grocery sales by 2022, up from just 3 percent in 2018.

While the industrial cold-storage industry currently accounts for a tiny portion of U.S. industrial-and-logistics real estate overall, it would have to expand significantly to meet that much demand, which would amount to an additional $100 billion in annual grocery sales conducted online, CBRE said.

"Several factors have combined to fuel expansion of the cold-storage space, from consumers' increasing use of online ordering for groceries to grocers' investment in new delivery strategies and warehouse technologies," Adam Mullen, CBRE's Industrial & Logistics Leader in the Americas, said in a release. "Still, the sector's growth will be somewhat measured because these are specialized facilities requiring significant capital, power, and government approvals."

Much of the cold-storage sector's growth is likely to occur in gateway markets like Los Angeles and the New York area as well as leading food-production states, such as California, Washington state, Florida, Texas, and Wisconsin, CBRE said.

According to the report, the challenges of constructing and modernizing cold-storage facilities to keep up with the strong growth of online grocery sales have already driven consolidation in the industry, as four companies control 73.4 percent of the refrigerated warehouse space in North America.

In one example of that trend, the logistics and cold storage firm Lineage Logistics LLC has been on an acquisition streak, most recently in February buying Preferred Freezer Services, a global network of temperature-controlled warehouses. Additional recent investments in the sector have included Preferred Freezer Services building a $60 million cold storage warehouse in Virginia, and Burris Logistics opening a public refrigerated warehouse (PRW) outside of Atlanta.

"Few sectors of commercial real estate will undergo as much transformation in the coming years as the cold-storage industry due to e-commerce's impact on this previously underpenetrated market," Matthew Walaszek, CBRE's Associate Director of Industrial & Logistics Research, Americas, said in a release. "We will see robust demand, further innovation in delivery and automation, and possibly more consolidation among major players."

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