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Refrigerated Freight Rates: What It Costs To Stay Frosty

December 20, 2022
 By Jacob Lee
Refrigerated Freight Rates: What It Costs To Stay Frosty
Last Modified: November 16, 2023
Knowing refrigerated freight rates is good to know when preparing a shipment of perishable goods. We’ll show what these rates are and how they change.

Refrigerated freight rates have risen quite high over the last few years. Shippers of perishable goods are now having to spend more money than before to get their freight to the final destination. If you’re a shipper in this position, it’s important to understand what the current reefer rates are, how to calculate the rates and how the rates will change. 

The current average for refrigerated freight rates is $3.19 per mile. You can calculate the reefer rate by dividing the total reefer rate a carrier is offering and dividing by the mileage from the pickup location to the final destination. This rate can fluctuate based on regulations, produce season, and equipment shortages. 

We’ll go into detail about refrigerated freight rates so you know what to expect when you’re shipping perishable goods from one destination to the next. 

What Is the Average Reefer Rate Per Mile?

As we established, reefer freight rates are currently at an average of $3.19 per mile. The region in which you ship your freight can vary. According to DAT Freight & Analytics, the following regions in the U.S. will have the following reefer freight rates:

  • West $2.56 
  • Midwest $2.79 
  • Northeast $2.17 
  • Southeast $2.16 
  • Southwest $2.29

Spot and contract rates for reefer freight services have been climbing steadily since August 2020 into 2022 as the table shows.

Spot And Contract Rates For Refrigerated Rates

Month and YearSpot RateContract Rate
January 2020$2.24$2.44
January 2021$2.61$2.61
January 2022$3.59$3.15

Provided By Statista

Currently, reefer freight rates are expected to rise through the fall months of 2022. Afterward, they’ll start to decline slowly which will give shippers some reprieve from the high rates they’ve been forced to pay. 

A refrigerated warehouse worker loading=

What Causes Refrigerated Freight Rates To Fluctuate?

Refrigerated freight rates, like other types of freight rates, can rise and fall for a multitude of different reasons. 

Some common factors that influence reefer rates are:

  • Delivery distance
  • Weight of your freight
  • Fuel costs

While these are common factors that sway reefer rates, these factors also sway other forms of truckload shipping. For this section, we’ll discuss the factors that mostly influence reefer rates specifically. 

State Regulations

State regulations on temperature-controlled shipping have a big impact on reefer shipping rates. In some states, some perishable goods are not allowed to be shipped over state lines unless they’re accompanied by an inspection certificate

The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) also impacts regulations for reefer shipping. One of FSMA’s goals is to ensure that perishable food stays at the correct temperature while in transit. 

Taking all these extra steps to move refrigerated items puts monetary strain on reefer carriers. To compensate themselves, reefer carriers will factor these costs into the rates they offer. 

Produce Season

The seasonality of fruits and vegetables can have an effect on reefer rates as well. Certain types of produce grow better in the summer, while others grow better during the spring. Seasonality of certain types of produce can vary based on the region in the U.S. where it’s being grown. 

When produce is fully grown and ready to transport, reefer rates will begin to rise. Although it might not seem like it, these seasonal spikes in reefer rates have some benefits: 

  • Due to the regularity of seasons, rate increases can be predicted
  • Predictable rate increases make planning easier
  • Predictable rate increases mean predictable rate drops

Seasonality might be predictable, but there’s always the possibility that factors like drought can have an impact on crop yields. Therefore, there is a possibility that for some points throughout the year, refrigerated freight rates won’t rise to the degree that they normally do.  

Equipment Shortages

Equipment shortages in the reefer side of the shipping industry are another factor that can drive rates up or down. Currently, the demand for reefer trailers is exceedingly high. 

Refrigerated freight rates are high partially due in part to a shortage of equipment and components that allow reefer trailers to operate.

That said, the production of new reefer trailers and components used for reefer trailers hasn’t been able to keep up with the demand. Dry van trailers can be susceptible to these problems as well. 

Reefer Freight Expenses

Shipping different types of refrigerated freight is inherently more expensive than other forms of truckload transportation. This is because of the equipment that reefer trailers need to operate.

Many shippers associate refrigerated shipping with perishable goods such as produce. However, there are many other types of cold goods that can comprise a reefer shipment. 

These goods include: 

  • Pharmaceutical products
  • HAZMAT goods 
  • Flowers and plants
  • Paint 

To keep these goods cold, reefer trailers require the important components previously discussed. Due to the expenses associated with keeping reefer trailers up in running so they can transport valuable perishable goods, rates for this shipping service are higher. 

A warehouse worker taking inventory of perishable goods

How Do I Calculate My Refrigerated Freight Rates?

Calculating your refrigerated freight rate is fairly similar to calculating freight rates for other shipping services. 

To calculate your refrigerated freight rates, you’ll need to follow these simple steps:

  1. Determine the total rate that’s being offered by a prospective carrier
  2. Determine the distance between where your freight will be picked up and where it will be dropped off
  3. Then, divide the total rate offered by the carrier by the amount of miles that your freight will travel

Calculating the cold chain shipping costs you’ll have to pay is the easy part. The difficult part is finding the total rate that carriers who provide reefer shipping will offer. Many carriers that offer reefer shipping don’t put their rate where many people can find it online.

Our article about cold chain distribution can give you more information on shipping perishable goods.

Predicting Reefer Rates

As we stated earlier, refrigerated freight costs tend to fluctuate based on the seasonality of produce goods. Taking advantage of the predictability of refrigerated truck freight rates can be beneficial for you as a shipper. It’s important to remember that not all types of produce have to be shipped in refrigerated conditions. 

Reefer shipping can be avoided for some types of produce such as:

  • Turnips
  • Kale
  • Radishes
  • Apples
  • Peaches
  • Plums

When you need to ship these types of produce during the times of the year when reefer rates begin to rise, use dry van shipping instead. This will allow you to save money on shipping when the cost of refrigerated freight gets high because you’ll only be shipping produce that has to be refrigerated.  

Learn more about cold chain food distribution in our article about its cold chain best practices.

Get the Best Rates With USA Refrigerated Shipping

At USA Refrigerated Shipping, we guarantee that you’ll find refrigerated shipping rates that you can’t find anywhere else. With our logistical capabilities, we ensure that all perishable goods arrive at their destination well before their expiration date. 

Our experienced partners have shipped all types of refrigerated and sensitive products.

  • Frozen goods
  • Electronics
  • Flowers
  • And More!

If you have any questions about shipping refrigerated freight with us, try scheduling a consulting session with one of our team members. They’ll assist you with any questions you might have so you can have better confidence when shipping with us. You can contact our team about consulting at (866) 849-4923. 

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