Temperature-controlled logistics services are emerging as an important growth area in Mexico, as a result of a number of factors. One of these is that, as more countries transition to predominantly middle-class consumption patterns, global demand for, and international trade in, a wide range of temperature-controlled goods has expanded.
The goods involved include fruit, dairy products, vegetables, fish, poultry and beef cuts, fresh flowers, and a wide range of pharmaceutical products. The technology for transporting such products in an uninterrupted cold chain, including refrigerated containers (known as reefers), has also advanced significantly in recent years, meaning that it has become feasible to transport these goods over greater distances and in a multimodal manner (by road, rail, sea and air).
Current technology includes GPS tracking, remote temperature monitoring and automated warehouse management. A recent study forecasts that the global cold chain market will grow to reach approximately $381.7bn by 2025, helped by the shift in emerging countries like Brazil, China and Mexico to consumer-led economies.
According to a separate survey by the Global Cold Chain Alliance (GCCA), total global refrigerated capacity stood at 600m cu metres in 2016, an increase of 8.6% from the previous survey in 2014. Much of the rise was attributed to increased construction in emerging markets, which was more than offsetting a process of consolidation in developed markets. The survey showed that refrigerated warehouse capacity had grown in all three of Mexico, the US and Canada.
GCCA president Corey Rosenbusch said that refrigerated capacity had increased most at ocean load centres, even in countries where roads and highways were “less than optimal”. Research suggested that a key driver of refrigerated capacity was growth in large-format supermarket retailing. However, capacity growth was also highly dependent on the quality and availability of transport networks.
Meanwhile, the volume of refrigerated cargo carried by sea has been rising steadily. According to shipping consultancy Drewry, seaborne reefer cargo will grow by 2.5% per annum to reach 120m tonnes in 2020. Despite downward pressure on reefer rates volumes had continued to expand in 2016.
Earlier estimates for Mexico are that refrigerated capacity grew by 27% between 2008 and 2014 to 5m cu metres. This pace of expansion was slower than that seen in India (43%) and China (35%) over the same period, but more than that in Brazil (26%) and the more mature market in the US (9%). The US Department of Commerce estimated the value of perishable goods distribution services at $250bn in 2014, of which over $10bn was pharmaceutical goods distribution.
For Mexico, the expanding cold chain offers an opportunity to export more to its traditional market in the US, focusing on road and rail. However, at a time of uncertainty over US policies on bilateral trade, the cold chain also offers the prospect of diversification of export destinations, particularly – but not exclusively – by ship and air to Europe.
In August 2016 BNSF Railway, the second-largest rail freight company in the US, and Mexico’s Ferromex announced a joint cold chain service linking Silao in the central-western Mexican state of Guanajuato with Chicago and Canada. The US firm said that it was opening the service to capture a stake in the growing perishables trade between Mexico, the US and Canada. Its initial aim was to target Mexican frozen vegetables exporters in the states of Aguascalientes, Querétaro and Guanajuato, which according to 2014 data were exporting nearly $200m a year of produce to the US. Key products shipped include frozen asparagus, broccoli, tomatoes and spinach.
Company managers said that the new cold chain rail route had a journey time of six days on both the north-south and south-north legs. They stress gains for the environment, as the US Environmental Protection Agency calculates that road haulage emissions per mile are three times lower by train than by road. Efforts are also being made to reduce the need for frontier inspections. Under existing regulations Customs authorities in both countries can agree, under certain conditions, to inspect produce in warehouses at the points of departure or arrival.
In terms of shipments of perishables from Mexico to Europe, Maersk Line said that in the first 10 months of 2016 total volumes had grown by 21%, with reefer volume up particularly sharply, due to increased sales of bananas and avocados. The company said that Mexico is not only an exporter in its own right, but also a gateway in trade to and from the Americas. Hamburg Süd, another major shipping line, said that it had invested $350m in improving its global reefer container fleet over the preceding three years. In 2017 it was enhancing its South America West Coast, Central America, Caribbean and North Europe Service, as well as the Europe, Mexico, Caribbean Service (EMCS). The company said that new ships with an increased number of reefers were being deployed on the EMCS.
Laura Pérez Grovas, supply chain manager for McCain, a logistics company serving Mexico, the US and Canada, said in early 2017 that the Mexican cold chain was developing rapidly, and correcting some of its earlier teething problems. One of these had been the need to ensure that the road segments of multimodal journeys were kept to schedule. McCain is concentrating on shipping meat cuts, fresh vegetables and some dry products. It is working with 620 reefers controlled with realtime GPS under the terms of an agreement with the Mexican Intermodal Transport Association.
There is also significant potential for growth in cold chain cargo carried by air. A number of US airports are playing an important role in cold chain transit movements, an area in which, once the new international airport in Mexico City is completed, Mexico may be able to offer competition. What is certain is that until the capital’s capacity is expanded there will be further decentralisation of logistics activities away from Mexico City.
“The airport situation in the capital is challenging and is restricting growth in the logistics sector,” said Erik Meade, managing director at logistics firm Panalpina Mexico. “The current facility is saturated to breaking point and prioritises passengers over cargo. However, this should incentivise airports in surrounding cities in the Bajío, such as Querétaro and Guadalajara, to take advantage of extra traffic that is not able to access Mexico City.”
In early 2017, for example, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport said that it would be opening a new 40,000-sq-foot cold chain facility in mid-year, to be operated by AirLogistix. Managers there said that they had developed a competitive advantage in some cold chain transit cargo, such as pharmaceuticals and fish (the latter being shipped from Chile and Norway to destinations in Asia). In others, such as flowers from South America to Europe, it was harder to compete with Miami.
Depending on the ability of Mexico City’s new airport to position itself as a gateway serving North, Central and South America, it may be able to capture an increased share of cold chain activity.
The flower export business is also growing. The US is estimated to import $15bn worth of flowers per year, with seasonal peak periods such as the build-up to Valentine’s Day in February. Mexico is the third-largest supplier of flowers to the US after Colombia and Peru. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food, the country’s production of roses increased by 5.6% in 2016. Rose exports in the first 11 months of 2016 were up by 82% to $7.3m, offering another opportunity for logistics providers.