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What is Refrigerated Last Mile Delivery (And Do You Need It?)

April 26, 2024 | By Joe Weaver
Last Modified: April 26, 2024
When your shipments need to stay frosty, you need refrigerated last mile delivery. Learn more about this logistics process and its challenges from our expert team.

From the grocery store to your front door, refrigerated delivery is essential for some of the most popular and even life-saving products in the USA. Extended to the last mile, you gain a solution to dealing with the unique obstacles of final delivery. 

Key Takeaways

  • Refrigerated last mile delivery is the use of refrigerated trucks and vans to move perishable goods to their last stop (usually a store or home delivery).
  • It’s the most customer-facing aspect of cold chain logistics, the overall process of storing and shipped cold goods.
  • Meats, produce, vaccines, and certain cosmetics are just some of the products that need this service.
  • Challenges of last mile refrigerated delivery include narrow delivery windows, meeting government regulations, and driving through heavily-trafficked routes.

In this guide, you’ll learn about what it takes to keep shipments cool in the home stretch of shipping, and find a partner who can make it happen.

What is Last Mile Cold Delivery?

Last mile delivery is the final step in the shipping process, where products reach their final destination. Some goods require refrigeration in transit to keep them in acceptable condition. This leads to the practice of last mile cold delivery.

This process uses refrigerated, or ‘reefer’ trailers and vans, to keep goods at specific temperatures on their way to the final recipient. It’s a specialized service that keeps temperature-sensitive shipments from degrading before delivery. 

Last mile and refrigerated freight shipping tend to be the most costly parts of the overall logistics process. Data gathered by Forbes in 2022, shows us how lucrative the services are together.

A digital drawing depicting three refrigerated semi trucks driving on a highway at night with the silhouette of city in the background.

While many products that need this service are obvious, others might surprise you.

Learn more about the challenges of last mile delivery.

Products That Need Refrigerated Final Mile Delivery

If you plan on shipping any of the following items, you should also plan on working with a refrigerated freight carrier. 

The temperature ranges included here are guidelines. They’ll vary based on specifics of the goods in question.

An infographic depicting the recommended shipping temperatures for a number of commodities that require refrigerated shipping in the final mile. The information is presented in Fahrenheit and Celsius. It reads as follows:

Pharmaceuticals: 55-77 degrees Fahrenheit, 13-25 Celsius
Milk and non-frozen dairy: 41-45 degrees Fahrenheit, 5-7 Celsius
Fresh Produce: 32-60 degrees Fahrenheit, 0-15 Celsius
Seafood: 29-45 degrees Fahrenheit, negative 2 to negative 7 Celsius
Fresh Meat: 32-40 degrees Fahrenheit, zero to 4 Celsius
Frozen Foods: Zero degrees Fahrenheit, negative 18 Celsius
Organic cosmetics: 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit, 10-15 Celsius

Though not comprehensive, this list covers many goods that usually need refrigerated shipping.

It’s not hard to see how important last mile refrigeration is to commerce in the USA. Performing this service requires carriers to anticipate and overcome a number of potential obstacles.

Cold Chain Logistics Challenges in the Final Mile

Before we even bring reefer freight trucks into the discussion, final mile deliveries already face plenty of challenges. 

  • Demand for Shorter Delivery Times 

For direct-to-consumer deliveries, this issue has only gotten harder to deal with as ecommerce grows.

  • High Per Mile Costs

These deliveries take place in congested areas, causing fuel efficiency to suffer and per-mile rates to go up.

  • Narrow Delivery Windows

Shipments often must be delivered within a narrow time span specified by the receiver.

  • Scaling Up For Busy Seasons

Adjusting delivery schedules during high-volume holiday seasons is especially difficult in the last mile.

Each of these obstacles gets more difficult to address when refrigeration is added to the mix. Keeping things cool also has its own issues when it comes to shipping.

  • Incorrect Loading Temperatures

About 32% of refrigerated cargo is loaded at too high of a temperature, which can lead to rejected shipments when items spoil.

  • Equipment Complexity and Failure

Modern refrigeration units are difficult and expensive to repair when the need arises, especially if it happens during a delivery.

  • Delayed Notification of Problems

Delays in detecting and addressing temperature spikes or drops may result in the spoilage of perishable goods.

  • Regulatory Compliance

Agencies like the FDA call for precise temperature controlled delivery and detailed record-keeping in their regulations.

  • Proof of Compliance at Delivery

Providing verified proof of proper temperature management through the shipping process is important, especially when discrepancies occur.

  • Remote Control and Monitoring

Lack of real-time, remote access to refrigeration units can stall timely responses to temperature issues and equipment alarms.

These and other issues can seem overwhelming for carriers and shippers alike. Cold chain logistics specialists need to be experienced and adaptable to meet these problems head on.

Overcoming Last Mile Delivery Challenges in the Cold Chain

As customer expectations increase, new technologies and innovative processes will separate successful carriers from those who get left behind. This is especially true in the growing realm of refrigerated final mile delivery.

Below are key strategies and technological advancements used by leaders in cold chain logistics.

Advanced Temperature-Control Technologies

  • High-quality packaging materials ensure thermal protection and energy efficiency.
  • Smart refrigeration units adjust temperatures in real-time based on condition changes.

Real-Time Monitoring and Internet of Things (IoT)

  • IoT sensors in vehicles allow real-time temperature and location tracking, providing a 360-degree overview of the delivery environment.
  • Telematics systems can help monitor and manage fleet operations. This improves response times to any changes in planned delivery conditions.

Route Optimization Software

  • This software calculates the most efficient delivery routes in real time. It takes traffic conditions, delivery windows, and vehicle capacity into account to maximize efficiency.
  • Geofencing technology lets operators know when a vehicle enters or exits a predefined area. Using this tech can improve route compliance.

Improved Training and Support for Delivery Workers

  • Carriers should offer regular training sessions for drivers who handle refrigerated shipments, with a focus on managing unforeseen issues.
  • Some mobile applications let drivers instantly access delivery instructions, changes in routing, and customer requests.

Flexible Delivery Options

  • Moving inventory closer to customers based on purchasing patterns reduces delivery times and costs.
  • Offering specific delivery windows improves first-time delivery success rates and customer satisfaction.

Eco-Friendly Practices

  • Adding electric or hybrid vehicles into a fleet cuts emissions, reducing fuel use and improving public perception.
  • Refrigeration units that use alternative fuel sources, such as solar power or natural gas, can reduce dependence on diesel.

Logistics companies that offer refrigerated shipping can make their last mile delivery services stand out by embracing these solutions. If you need these services, make sure to ask your carrier about the methods they use to ensure refrigerated products arrive in acceptable condition.

USA Last Mile Delivery Helps You Keep Your Cool

Shipping refrigerated goods on the final mile is no small task. It takes a carrier with the right vehicles, experience, and personnel to deliver consistent results that keep customers coming back.

At USA Last Mile Delivery, we’re up to the challenge. With our diverse fleet of delivery vehicles and nationwide network of distribution centers, we have what it takes to stay frosty on this challenging leg of the delivery process.

In addition to refrigerated shipping, we offer a full suite of last mile services, including:

Don’t trust your perishable goods to just any carrier. Call us at (866) 569-1445 or request a proposal and let cooler heads prevail.

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