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19 September 2023

Last-mile delivery of refrigerated food: a long way to go

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In recent years, Ecommerce has reached all segments of domestic consumption, including food and beverage shopping. In fact, according to the E-Shoppers Barometer prepared by Geopost for the whole of Europe, 39% of Spanish online shoppers regularly buy food through this channel, a percentage that is already above the European average. Among the reasons, respondents highlight: saving time, being able to order when they want and not having to carry the shopping with them.

Alimarket Gran Consumo

Delving deeper into this market, according to the consultancy Circana - for the mobile year ending April 2023 -, within the 'Top 20' of online sales of FMCG products, four food categories that require cold storage are very well positioned: vegetables (sixth position), fruit (seventh), meat products (tenth) and yoghurts/fermented milks (eleventh). However, all these categories lost some steam last year in terms of volume (but not value), as a result of the end of the pandemic and inflation, the latter with the changes in consumption which, among other things, meant a reduction in fresh products in the shopping basket. The sum of these four categories added up to a volume of 71,600 tonnes marketed in the aforementioned annual period (-11%), a volume that must be delivered to the buyer's home in optimum conditions, both in time and, above all, in form.

Although there is no specific data on the impact of this incipient business on the accounts of logistics operators, it is certain that this activity has already begun to be noticed in the progress of refrigerated logistics. Thus, according to the latest Alimarket Logistics Report on this sector, published in May 2023, the 70 or so companies included had a turnover of €2.5 billion, with a growth of 17% compared to 2021. Although these figures include the logistics and delivery of all types of refrigerated goods (including the booming pharma segment), food - both fresh and frozen - occupies a significant space and, as it is a service for all types of channels (retail chain platforms, shops, restaurants...), the companies consulted highlight the progress of operations for Ecommerce.

From the order preparation side, the contract assumed by Salvensen Logística to manage the platform for Carrefour's online food sales in Getafe (Madrid) stands out, a 10,000 m² center with capacity for 17,000 references. Likewise, two other retail chains (DIA and Mercadona) are strengthening their network of specific centers for online delivery, all of them with space dedicated to cold storage, and managed by themselves. In the case of DIA, there are already 12 centers for this operation - which are supported by some 60 stores open to the public -; and the Valencian chain has a network of “hives”, currently five after opening one in Seville last November, and physical stores (18) for this service. Meanwhile, Alcampo plans the construction of several smart warehouses to improve deliveries from the online channel, the first of which will open in San Fernando de Henares (Madrid) in 2024, in collaboration with the technology company Ocado. And El Corte Inglés is building a large hub of more than 20,000 m² in the Madrid neighborhood of Villaverde, which will be specialized in food e-commerce (with areas of ambient and refrigerated merchandise) and will support the one it already has in Coslada (10,800 m²).

Towards a more professional delivery

For delivery from these centers, retailers continue to resort in many cases to their own fleet or to contracts with companies specialized in home delivery from in-store purchases. However, more and more specific initiatives are emerging to take on this type of delivery, especially to address the growing low-emission zones for which not all classic delivery fleets are prepared. Among the major players in refrigerated transportation, Narval launched a frozen and refrigerated home delivery service during the pandemic, which already reaches provincial capitals and towns with more than 50,000 inhabitants. And Seur - leader in the express transport sector - is betting, through its 'Seur Frío' and 'Seur Now' divisions, on last-mile Ecommerce refrigerated delivery. In the case of 'Seur Frío', the carrier states that "in 2021 it registered a growth of 34% compared to 2020, due to the promotion of online sales of fresh products and food", and, already in 2022, this area "was the only section of the group with a clearly upward behavior, estimated at 23%.” Stuart Delivery, a platform specialized in last-mile delivery using sustainable vehicles and, above all, in city centers, belongs to the same group, Geopost. In this case, their clients are mainly distributed among small neighborhood stores - including florists -, some supermarkets and organized restaurants.

The initiative of the Madrid startup Revoolt also stands out, this one with a 100% vocation to carry out B2C food delivery in sustainable vehicles. With a fleet of 80 zero-emission units, Revoolt provides service in a dozen cities and works for different supermarket chains, such as Alcampo, Simply, DM Supermercados, Ahorramas and Casa Elías -the latter two in Madrid-, delivering all types of products . He also works for some online food stores, such as Veritas and Vinow. With a very similar profile, we can name the Catalan company E-Transport, also with a presence in Madrid, and a high specialization in tri-temperature products (ambient, refrigerated and frozen), for which it has fifteen adapted vehicles and a storage warehouse. consolidation in Pallejà (Barcelona), with a surface area of ​​1,400 m2 and refrigeration capacity for 30 pallets. In his case, he works both for online supermarkets and for distributors of fresh products such as Enjoy y Verdura, Ecoveritas, Mercat Arrels or Barrufet Group, the latter a Mercabarna fish wholesaler.

Meanwhile, the logistics platform specialized in Ecommerce Paack Logistics launched a scheduled delivery service (next day) at controlled temperatures (in positive cold and frozen) in 2019, under the name 'Paack Food'. This service is focused primarily on gourmet food e-commerce (fruit, vegetables, meat or even prepared dishes) and is both B2C and B2B (for restaurants) deliveries. At the beginning of 2022, the service was already provided in Madrid, Barcelona, ​​Zaragoza and Valencia, and the objective is to extend it to Seville, Málaga, Bilbao and Coruña. Likewise, Goi Travel, a group specialized in the delivery of bulky merchandise from Ecommerce, acquired the Madrid-based Lidertrans in early 2022, with extensive experience in the delivery of refrigerated and frozen merchandise. Although a priori this company is focused on delivery from the supermarket in a time slot - the so-called home delivery -, Goi Travel did not rule out expanding the service to online purchases, using the software that applies to bulk delivery. And, already within urban distribution, the Barcelona startup has already signed contracts with Bimbo or Pascual for sustainable delivery (in vehicles adapted with a tri-temperature box) in Barcelona.