Reefer report: Truckload produce demand lags in most regions except the Pacific Northwest

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Fall produce season mixed with holiday season festivities typically provides a much-needed boost for reefer carriers in November. This year, though, truckload volumes nationally trailed last year by around 3%, impacted mainly by the prominent California produce market, where volumes are down 26% year-over-year (y/y). In the smaller Pacific Northwest (PNW) produce region, truckload volumes of Fall produce are 28% higher than last year and the highest since March 2020. Potatoes, apples, and dry onions account for 83% of year-to-date PNW produce volume, with apples, the most significant volume contributor, having a great year with truckload volumes 36% higher than in 2022.

Reefer spot rates currently average $2.39/mile, excluding fuel, for outbound Washington state loads. The Spokane market averaged $2.44/mile for reefer loads, with California the most popular destination and just $0.03/mile lower than last year. On the produce import front, it’s the slack season for imports from Mexico, with volumes trailing last year by 4% and 8% in Tamaulipas, MX, the largest produce-exporting state to the U.S. Produce moves via the Pharr International Bridge into the McAllen freight market. Tamaulipas truckload produce volumes are 8% lower than last year. On our northern border, Canadian imports, representing around 5% of total produce imports, are 6% higher than last year, and in Ontario, Canada’s largest produce-growing province,  produce volumes are running 10% higher than in 2022.

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 Market watch

All rates cited below exclude fuel surcharges unless otherwise noted.

Atlanta outbound reefer rates increased by $0.12/mile last week to an average rate of $1.80/mile, while on the high-volume regional lane to Lakeland, FL, carriers averaged $2.94/mile, the highest since February. DAT’s Ratecast forecasts spot rates on this lane to increase another $0.22/mile to $3.16/mile by the end of the year.  

In the Southwest, outbound spot rates in Phoenix increased by $0.15/mile to $2.12/mile last week and $0.03/mile higher at $2.15/mile on the regional haul west to Los Angeles. Carriers averaged $1.89/mile for loads to San Francisco last week and are on track to peak at almost $1.00/mile higher by the end of the year. In Twin Falls, ID, spot rates averaged $2.70/mile, an increase of $0.15/mile in the last week, while loads to Phoenix and Denver averaged $3.00/mile and $3.68/mile, respectively. 

Load to Truck Ratio (LTR)

The reefer load post (LP) volume dropped by 60% w/w last week, in line with past years during the short workweek. Carrier equipment posts (EP) were down 28% w/w, resulting in last week’s reefer load-to-truck ratio (LTR) decreasing to 1.87.    

Spot rates

Reefer spot rates edged back over $2.00/mile for the first time in just over three months following last week’s $0.03/mile increase. At around $2.00/mile, the national average reefer linehaul rate has increased by $0.13/mile in the last month. Compared to last year, reefer spot market rates are $0.15/mile lower and only around $0.03/mile higher than in 2019. 

Weekly reports

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