The reefer container market and academic research: a review study

Bob Castelein, Harry Geerlings, Ron van Duin

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)
140 Downloads (Pure)


The refrigerated (or ‘reefer’) container market grows rapidly. Researchers and sector stakeholders increasingly realize that this container market segment has its distinct dynamics and demands. This article provides a comprehensive overview of the reefer container sector, its most important characteristics and trends, and a systematic review of the academic literature on reefer containers and logistics. First the authors outline the characteristics, composition, and development of the reefer container market, showing its growth through modal shift (from conventional reefer ships and airfreight) and differentiation into new cargo markets and niche services. Secondly the authors outline reefer chains in terms of their relevant stages, stakeholders, and processes. Data on insurance claims shows that cold chain failure and cargo loss not only occur due to technical failures, but just as often due to organizational errors – especially due to hold-up risk at container transfer points. Thirdly the authors map the present knowledge on reefer containers and reefer transportation through a systematic literature review. The current body of research on reefer containers consists mostly of highly specialized, technical studies on product characteristics and quality preservation, monitoring and control, refrigeration technology, and temperature management. While technological advances in these fields have largely enabled the containerization of cold logistics chains, the first sections of this paper also highlight that many current pressing issues in reefer transportation are logistical and organizational in nature. Therefore, the authors propose a research agenda addressing these overlooked aspects, including supply chain coordination issues and implications of reefer market developments for port policy.
Original languageEnglish
Article number120654
Number of pages32
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Issue number120654
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Cold chain
  • Container transport
  • Reefer
  • Reefer container


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