The continued growth of e-commerce orders, positive economic conditions and strong consumer spending patterns set the stage for success for third-party logistics (3PL) providers and refrigerated warehousing and logistics providers in 2021. Barring any major disruptions to the current flow, this momentum is expected to continue right into 2022.
Armstrong & Associates, a leading 3PL consultancy and research firm, reports that total commercial warehousing space for the top 20 North American warehouses totaled about 767 million square feet this year and was spread across 3,214 different facilities in the United States.
Evan Armstrong, president of Armstrong & Associates, says the overall commercial warehousing market remained “pretty strong” throughout 2021, with the total global commercial warehousing revenue expected to reach about $1.1 trillion this year (up from $962 billion in 2020), including both contract and public services. Armstrong expects the value-added warehousing market (third-party logistics) in the United States to grow by 8.9% in 2021 and reach $50.9 billion (up from $46.9 billion in 2020).
Armstrong compiles an annual list of the top North American warehousing companies. Each company has either provided square footage information or enough public information for Armstrong & Associates to make a reasonable estimate of size. “I think we’re then going to see pretty good growth for the market throughout 2022 and into 2023,” he adds. “That’s our current projection.”
With nearly 140 million square feet of space across 493 warehouses, DHL Supply Chain North America maintained its reign as the top-ranking 3PL in North America in 2021. Based on Armstrong & Associates’ estimates, Amazon technically ranked second with 185 million and 290 total warehouses, but isn’t given an official ranking number on the chart.
Rounding out the top five this year were GXO Logistics (101 million/336 locations), Ryder Supply Chain Solutions (64 million/330 warehouses), NFI (53 million/132 locations) and GEODIS North America (52.2 million/171 warehouses). All of these companies retained their respective positions on the list, compared to 2020’s rankings.
Other major players on this year’s list include Americold (44.9 million square feet across 194 locations), Lineage Logistics (40 million/213), FedEx Logistics (30.7 million/110), Kenco Logistics Services (30 million/90) and Penske Logistics (26.5 million/94). The two new entrants claiming spots on the Top 20 for 2021 were Maersk Logistics North America (14.7 million square feet and 46 locations) and DSV Panalpina North America (14.1 million/46).
Reflecting on this year’s Top 20 ranking, Armstrong says GXO Logistics’ spin-off from XPO Logistics, which took place in August 2021, was an “interesting approach, strategically speaking.”
According to the company, GXO launched with approximately 94,000 team members worldwide and more than 208 million square feet of warehouse space in 869 locations across 27 countries.
Its customer base includes brands like Apple, Nike, Nestlé and Whirlpool, along with various e-commerce, apparel, technology, food and beverage, and consumer electronics companies.
“They basically put all of their global warehousing operations in one silo,” says Armstrong. “I know they’re still planning on cross-selling between XPO and GXO, so we’ll see how well that works [out].” He sees NFI maintaining a strong position in the market as an integrated solution provider, noting the company has expanded both its integrated warehousing and dedicated contract carriage solutions offerings. Geodis also continues to stand out on its strong retail, high-tech and consumer operations.
Going down the list, Armstrong says Kenco’s mix of healthcare and consumer retail package goods (CPG) customers makes it a “pretty sophisticated provider,” while CJ Logistics now offers a broader warehousing footprint and domestic transportation management capability than it did previously, when working primarily with Korean multi-national organizations.
By acquiring Visible Supply Chain Management in August 2021, Maersk further entrenched itself in the e-commerce and small parcel sectors. When the acquisition was announced, Visible SCM was operating nine fulfillment centers in the United States, according to the company.
In 2020, the company had previously acquired omni-channel fulfillment provider Performance Team, which handles container trans-loading and de-consolidation.
Armstrong sees these acquisitions as a sign that Maersk wants to make moves to enhance its 3PL warehousing footprint and presence and e-commerce offering. The company has traditionally been strong in the retail sector and looks to be spreading its wings into other opportunity areas. Due to this activity, Armstrong says he “expects Maersk to be higher on the Top 20 list in 2022.”
Looking ahead, Armstrong expects to see providers like Lineage Logistics continuing its “growth by acquisition” strategy in 2022 while organizations like Saddle Creek Logistics Services (ranked No. 11 with 26.2 million square feet of space in 76 locations) maintaining its current organic growth strategy.
He also mentions Amazon’s continued impact on the third-party logistics industry, and says he expects the e-tailer to expand its 3PL footprint with its Fulfillment by Amazon offering as it “keeps expanding its offering to mid-market customers.”
Calling e-commerce the “fastest-growing 3PL segment” right now, Armstrong says that corner of the market has been posting an average 28% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) since 2017. He expects that momentum to continue. “We expect e-commerce to really be a catalyst for much growth,” says Armstrong, “this year, next year and beyond.”
Every year, the International Association of Refrigerated Warehouses (IARW) publishes its North American Top 25 List of the largest refrigerated warehousing and logistics providers in Canada, Mexico and the United States. The list is determined by total capacity—in millions of cubic feet—of temperature-controlled space operated by IARW warehouse members.
According to Matthew R. Ott, GCCA’s president and CEO, the cold chain industry continues to grow domestically and globally. Based on GCCA member capacity, the group has seen an increase of nearly 20% from 2020 to 2021. Throughout the pandemic, the association has witnessed the need for 3PL refrigerated warehouses “increase significantly,” says Ott.
“Our 2021 report shows that this year the top three companies have remained the same, Lineage Logistics [with 1643 million cubic feet of space, up from 1391.9 in 2020], Americold Logistics [1192.3 million versus 1032.1 last year] and United States Cold Storage [381.8 million compared to 373.9 in 2020], though they have all increased in capacity,” Ott explains.
Other companies claiming top spots on this year’s list were Interstate Warehousing (with 137.2 million cubic feet of space, up from 115.7 last year), VersaCold Logistics Services (123 million, the same as 2020), and Frialsa (108.6 million compared to 102.2 in 2020). The new entrants on this year’s list included RLS Logistics (with 26.1 million cubic feet) and Interstate Cold Storage Inc. (21.4 million).
Looking ahead to 2022, Ott expects increased automation in refrigerated warehouses to continue, and particularly as capacity continues to increase and technological advances play a more prominent role in new facilities.
Additionally, he sees talent recruitment playing a critical role in keeping the cold chain stable, safe and efficient, especially in light of the pandemic-related labor shortages. He says GCCA is involved with training and leadership programs (for example with its WFLO Institute) and continues to develop programs to help members with recruitment, retention, training, job task analysis and industry promotion.
Reflecting on the last 18 to 20 months, Ott says that the cold chain has demonstrated “great strength and resiliency” in responding to the various disruptions that surfaced during that time period. And while there are sure to be continued supply chain challenges in 2022, he adds that the increased public awareness of the supply chain gives GCCA a lot of reasons to be optimistic about the future.
“There’s more recognition on the importance of the supply chain and, as a result, policy makers are paying closer attention to supply chain issues than ever before,” Ott adds. “GCCA is actively working with policy makers to strengthen the food supply chain so it can continue to withstand these disruptions and challenges as they emerge in the future.”