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Refrigerated Freight Broker: A Master in Cold Logistics

January 6, 2023
 By Natalie Kienzle
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Refrigerated Freight Broker: A Master in Cold Logistics
Last Modified: July 14, 2023
The cold chain industry can be punishing to those unfamiliar with various regulations or common best practices. Considering the delicate and vulnerable nature of the goods involved, working with an expert is important.

A refrigerated freight broker is the kind of logistics expert you call whenever you need to move perishable freight. Between the need to find reputable carriers and navigate the various safety regulations involving refrigerated freight, you’re going to want an expert in your corner. 

The International Refrigerated Transportation Association (ITAR) has created guidelines for reefer carriers that keep them in compliance with accepted sanitary standards. A reefer freight broker is familiar with ITAR guidelines and others related to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirements for refrigerated goods. 

If you’re needing to ship refrigerated products, find out why using a refrigerated freight broker is in your best interest.

refrigerated freight broker view of the cold food grocery aisle.

What is a Refrigerated Freight Broker? 

Freight brokers are an important part of the logistics industry. As a link between shippers and carriers, they make a profit by knowing who does what best. Freight brokers will often specialize in a specific type of commodity or service. 

A refrigerated freight broker is someone who has specialized in arranging shipping services for temperature sensitive cargo. 

Most reefer freight brokers work with perishable foods, but there are many other temperature sensitive products that make up the cold chain industry. 

Common cold chain freight includes:

A reefer broker can focus on any of these commodities. There are refrigerated shipping companies that will only work with certain items. For example, frozen goods are a common focus because freezing temperatures are actually some of the easiest to maintain. 

Someone looking to transport a full truckload of frozen beef will get a better deal by working with a refrigerated freight broker familiar with carriers that specialize in frozen goods. 

What is a Produce Freight Broker?

The more challenging the freight, the more likely you are to need a broker that specializes in a specific service. 

A produce freight broker arranges the shipping for fresh fruits and vegetables that are at a high risk of spoiling or becoming damaged in a way that makes them unfit for retail. 

Most farmers operate on pretty thin margins, so they want as much produce as possible to make it the distributor. A grocery chain may reject a load that looks bruised or discolored even if the product itself is unspoiled. 

When reefers are moving produce they must carefully control several things such as:

  • Humidity
  • Temperature
  • Packaging
  • Travel route
  • Trailer chassis

Many foods can be shipped at the same temperature, but not at the same humidity. For example, oranges and onions are ideally shipped close to freezing at temperatures between 32° to 35° Fahrenheit. However, their humidity requirements are very different. A carrier unfamiliar with these small details can easily ruin an entire shipment. 

To avoid these kinds of disasters, you use a produce freight broker. It’s usually someone with years working in agriculture as well as logistics. They are going to know which reefer trucks and carriers are up for the task. 

Before seeking a refrigerated freight broker to organize your shipment of fruits and vegetables, read our article on produce shipping costs.

Why Do You Need a Refrigerated Freight Broker?

Thankfully, not all refrigerated freight is so delicate. In such a case, a shipper might be tempted to try and arrange their own transportation needs. However, you would also be missing out on other potential benefits. 

A refrigerated freight broker is more likely to get you access to further valuable services and better rates.  Making shipping arrangements is only part of the overall process.

A refrigerated brokerage service can take care of:

  • Cargo insurance arrangements
  • Warehousing 
  • Distribution services
  • Security needs
  • Carrier vetting
  • Required permits

Reefer loads are on tight deadlines. Unlike dry van trailers, a refrigerated trailer or container needs constant fuel to work. You want freight brokerage services that will find you carriers you can depend on. 

Without the right insurance coverage, you could be on the hook for hundreds or thousands of dollars in lost merchandise. If the truck is inspected by the FDA and fails to meet its hygiene standards, you face even more profit loss through hefty fines. 

To avoid such supply chain disruptions, a refrigerated freight broker with the right connections is something your business needs

Side view of a semi truck with the front of a reefer trailer visible

What are the Challenges of Arranging Refrigerated Loads?

Making arrangements for temperature controlled freight, no matter the commodity, is going to come with challenges. It’s one thing to arrange refrigerated trucking services, which usually take a few days. However, there is also marine reefer shipping.

Reefer cargo brokers also have to make arrangements for international shipments. These shipments can take weeks if traveling by ship. Brokers can also arrange for refrigerated goods to travel by air cargo. 

The United States has a thriving import and export economy that includes reefer freight. Whether goods are moving in a container, trailer, or refrigerated van, they all face similar challenges. 

Some of the greatest challenges faced by brokers when arranging refrigerated loads include:

  1. Equipment Breakdown: Since compressors are running all the time, they need frequent maintenance. A broker should have connections to multiple carriers in the event that maintenance makes a trailer unavailable. 
  2. Driver Shortages: Finding skilled drivers willing to take the risk of hauling reefer freight is getting harder. A driver’s pay gets affected when loads go bad and many simply aren’t willing to risk it if there are more stable loads available. 
  3. Communication Challenges: Open communication includes shipment tracking, delivery notices, and other related news. Brokers want to get a steady stream of information so they can keep their clients in the loop. 
  4. Poorly Trained Support: High job turnover in the warehousing industry means that new employees aren’t always up to date with the right training. Without the right training, mistakes become more frequent and more expensive. 

While these challenges do impact all parts of the freight shipping industry, their negative effects hit reefer loads a bit harder. 

This is on top of other issues affecting food distribution in particular. As tracking and visibility improve, it becomes more obvious that a significant amount of food loss is taking place before food ever reaches consumers. 

Food Loss Numbers in Supply Chain

SourceLoss Percentage
Farms21%
Manufacturing14%
Food Retail12%
Food Service16%
Homes37%
Source: Food Engineering

A broker can’t do anything about the food loss that happens in people’s homes. However, connecting you with the right manufacturers and food service transports can make a difference.  

Experienced refrigerated freight brokers are aware that even the best companies are going to run into these problems. However, they also know that some have better records than others. 

When vetting carriers, a broker can check FDA compliance history. They can also look into how closely the company follows IRTA guidelines. This is especially important in transporting food and pharmaceutical perishables. 

Items such as vaccines can lose their effectiveness if temperatures inside the reefer change by more than a couple of degrees. To haul such a load, a broker is going to target medical transport companies that can monitor the temperature in real time. 

Finding Refrigerated Freight Brokers as an Importer

The U.S. accepts refrigerated imports from many countries around the world. Many of our fresh fruits and vegetables come from overseas markets. If you are an importer in another country, such as Colombia or Brazil, you need a way to arrange shipping from far away. 

Local farmers might be familiar with some big names in reefer freight. Foreign importers don’t have that luxury, especially if they are managing the process from their home country. Once products hit U.S. land, they need to get them to retailers fast. 

This need has become even more important as exporters in places like Chile report longer ocean freight times. Shipments that used to take 2 weeks are now taking at least 35 days.

Also, consider that the cold chain market for all of Latin America is growing. Current market reports have the Latin American cold chain market valued at $26.05 billion USD. By 2026, it’s projected to be worth $35.69 billion. 

To find reliable refrigerated freight brokers, importers can look into these organizations:

  • Freight forwarding companies
  • 3PL providers
  • IRTA

As a trade organization focused on guidelines for shipping perishables, IRTA has connections to reefer freight brokers and can point you in a good direction. 

What Industries Rely on Reefer Freight Brokers?

Any industry that needs shipping for temperature sensitive products relies on the services of reefer freight brokers

These industries include:

  • Grocery Chains
  • Healthcare and Pharmaceutical
  • Art Galleries
  • Restaurants 
  • Military Transports
  • Agriculture
  • Dairy Production

Whether you are working in these industries as a supplier or manufacturer, timing is everything. For products that require refrigeration at every step in their process, the ability to monitor temperature and time until deliveries are final is a must.  

USA Refrigerated Freight Is Here to Make a Deal

The needs of your business become our priority when you partner with USA Refrigerated Freight. Our refrigerated freight specialists have worked with carriers all across North America. 

Goods coming in from Mexico? We’ve got you covered. Need to move reefer containers that have been offloaded at ports? You’re in the right place. 

Our specialists are ready to assist with:

  • Cold chain logistics support
  • Refrigerated freight services
  • Freight consultation needs

Call us today at (866) 849-2713 to speak with a live agent. Receive a customized freight quote by completing an online form today. 

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