Executive summary

The emerging markets boom of the last three decades is a familiar story. Less well known is the surge in cold chain investment and consumption that has been an integral part of the rapid growth in many emerging economies. In China, for example, fridge ownership among urban households rose from 7% to 95% between 1995 and 20071; and cold storage capacity soared nine-fold from just 250 million cubic feet to more than 2 billion in the three years to 20102, and is on track to more than double again by 2017.3 China's cold chain business is reported to be growing at 25% per year and projected to be worth $75 billion by 2017.4 Cold chain investment is also booming in India, and annual revenues in the sector are forecast to reach $13 billion by 2017.5 This correlation should come as no surprise: as people's incomes rise, they naturally buy the appliances and services that improve the quality, safety and variety of the food they eat. But the question now is how far does this trend have left to run?

Growth in emerging economies has slowed sharply since the financial crisis, to less than 7.5% in China and 5% in India, reflecting the near-depression afflicting much of Europe, and in the case of China at least, a deliberate policy to slow the expansion to a more sustainable pace. Some economists distrust official Chinese GDP figures and think the economy has slowed even further to around 4%6, while some even argue the Asian economic miracle has peaked7, implying any future growth in cold chains would be sedate at best. We suggest, on the contrary, that there is potential for even faster expansion in cold chains in China and India – and sustainable cold chains at that – because of demographic and other factors that may not be captured by conventional forecasting approaches.

These factors include:

  • the emergence by 2030 of a huge new Asian middle class of over 3 billion people, two thirds of the world total;
  • headroom for growth: less than 4% of India's fresh produce is transported by cold chain compared to more than 90% in the UK;
  • the critical need to reduce food waste in order to feed a population of 9 billion by 2050: it's estimated that halving food wastage could feed an extra 1 billion people8; fruit and vegetables worth $4.4 billion are discarded every year in India alone;
  • the high environmental, health and financial costs of conventional cold chain technologies.

In the major developing economies, refrigerated transport looks likely to grow even faster than the cold chain as a whole, since investment to date has been skewed towards cold storage. To create truly integrated cold chains, developing countries will need to invest far more in transport refrigeration. End-to-end cold is also vital for transporting vaccines and medicines, and global investment in pharmaceutical cold chains is expected to grow at over 13% per year to 20199, although this paper focuses on food cold chains in the developing world.

Analysis by the strategic energy consultancy E4tech supports the argument that there may be far more headroom for growth in cold chain demand in countries such as China and India than suggested by conventional forecasts. Conventional 'bottom up' projections suggest the global refrigerated truck fleet could grow to five times its current size by 2025, whereas a 'top down' approach that takes account of the growth rates achieved by analogous goods and services in developing countries suggests demand could conceivably grow nine-fold. Neither figure is a forecast, and we certainly do not expect to see the very upper end of the range in so short a time-frame. But the analysis does suggest there is potential for far stronger growth than is generally expected, and that the job of dealing with its environmental and health impacts is increasingly urgent.

1 What Do Chinese Dumplings Have to Do With Global Warming?, New York Times Magazine, 25 July 2014, http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/07/27/magazine/what-do-chinese-dumplings-have-to-do-with-global-warming. html?_r=4&referrer=

2 Global Cold Storage Capacity Report, IARW, 2014, http://www.gcca.org/press-releases/iarw-global-cold-storage-capacity-rep...http://www.gcca.org/press-releases/iarw-global-cold-storage-capacity-report-shows-strong-worldwide-growth/

3 GCCA Helps Foster Long-Term Growth of Chinese Cold Chain Industry, GCCA, November 2008, http://www.gcca.org/cold-facts/gcca-helps-foster-long-term-growth-of-chi...http://www.gcca.org/cold-facts/gcca-helps-foster-long-term-growth-of-chinese-cold-chain-industry/

4 Cold chain opportunity assessments, University of Nottingham, 2014, http://naturalleader.com/wp-content/themes/natlead/images/CRC3656-ColdCh...http://naturalleader.com/wp-content/themes/natlead/images/CRC3656-ColdChainOpp.pdf

5 Cold Chain industry in India http://indiacoldchainshow.com/Cold-Chain-Industry-in-India-A-Report.pdfhttp://indiacoldchainshow.com/Cold-Chain-Industry-in-India-A-Report.pdf

6 Danny Gabay, Fathom Consulting, interviewed on Radio 4 Today Programme, 23 December 2014, at 0713, http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04vdy0w http://www.fathom-consulting.com/us/team/

7 Why Asia's economic miracle may be ending, William Wilson, Daily Signal, 15 November 2014, http://dailysignal.com/2014/11/15/why-asias-economic-miracle-may-be-ending/

8 Lost Food, Wasted Resources: Global Food Supply Chain Losses and Their Impacts on Freshwater, Cropland, and Fertiliser Use, Kummu, M., et al, Science of the Total Environment 438: 477-489, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969712011862

9 Demand for Temperature-Sensitive Pharmaceuticals Will Expand the Healthcare Cold Chain Logistics Market by 2019 Says TechNavio, TechNavio Research 16 December 2014, http://www.pharmiweb.com/pressreleases/pressrel.asp?ROW_ID=105430#.VN3gU_msVyJ#ixzz3RcjW5Ouw