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Growth In Online Grocery Shopping Drives Demand For Industrial Cold Storage And Speculative Construction To New Heights

US sees 3.3 MSF of speculative development, up from just 300,000 SF in 2019

29 Jun 2022

Cold storage warehouse and a line of forklifts

Growth in online grocery shopping has triggered demand for new U.S. cold storage space, spurring 3.3 million square feet of speculative development, up from just 300,000 square feet in 2019, according to a new report from CBRE.

“Many of our pandemic-era shopping practices have become normalized,” said John Morris, CBRE President of Industrial & Logistics in the Americas. “Just as e-commerce spending has driven a need for warehouses, increased online grocery shopping has increased the need for more cold storage space.”

In October of 2021, refrigerated and frozen foods accounted for 9 percent and 13 percent of online grocery purchases, respectively. This has more than doubled and tripled from just 4 percent for both categories in early 2020, according to data provider IRI.

Overall, online penetration of total grocery sales reached almost 13 percent in 2021, up from just 3 percent in 2019.

This surging activity has driven demand for new cold storage space. CBRE estimates the U.S. cold storage footprint to be approximately 225 million sq. ft., with a vacancy rate that mirrors the overall industrial sector at a historically tight 3.1 percent.

“In the past, the construction cost premium for cold storage space was a major barrier to entry, typically at triple the cost to construct compared to a dry warehouse,” Mr. Morris said. “However, with heightened interest from institutional investors and a lack of supply, many developers are more confident in launching speculative projects.”

That said, new entrants are faced with a challenging market to navigate not only because of high construction and operating costs, but also complex user requirements increasing the risk of not securing a tenant before completion. Among the additional costs entailed in cold-storage construction: insulated metal panel installation, refrigeration equipment, blast freezing and fumigation, and installation of premium concrete slabs and under-floor heating.

Cold storage development and site selection takes several variables into account, including population density, proximity to food producers, and infrastructure for transportation and distribution. To that end, the most populous U.S. states also have some of the largest cold-storage industries.

Market Industrial Cold Storage Footprint* Market Industrial Cold Storage Footprint*
California 395.9 million Pennsylvania 232.5
Washington state 294.3 Illinois 182.3
Florida 241.7 Georgia 178.7
Texas 262.0 Oregon 140.6
Wisconsin 284.8 New Jersey 136.9

*In millions of square feet

Read the full report here.

About CBRE Group, Inc.
CBRE Group, Inc. (NYSE:CBRE), a Fortune 500 and S&P 500 company headquartered in Dallas, is the world’s largest commercial real estate services and investment firm (based on 2021 revenue). The company has more than 105,000 employees (excluding Turner & Townsend employees) serving clients in more than 100 countries. CBRE serves a diverse range of clients with an integrated suite of services, including facilities, transaction and project management; property management; investment management; appraisal and valuation; property leasing; strategic consulting; property sales; mortgage services and development services. Please visit our website at www.cbre.com.