Though numerous industries rely on cold storage assets to safely store products, the U.S. cold chain wasn’t prepared for the massive surge in grocery e-commerce during the coronavirus pandemic. Online grocery sales grew by more than 50% year-over-year, pushing cold chain real estate near capacity across the country. The cold chain in the United States will need at least 100 million square feet of additional space over the next five years.

The cold chain also has a cryogenic subsector that primarily serves the pharmaceutical industry. This network of ultra-cold-capable facilities has been strained well beyond capacity by the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. Sourcing for ultra-low temperature freezers has skyrocketed, increasing 522% year-over-year.

With demand far outpacing supply, it has become difficult for many businesses to secure enough cold storage space to meet their needs. Real estate developers are working as quickly as they can to add millions of square feet of temperature-controlled warehousing across the United States, but this sort of development often takes years. This article will explore some of the creative ways businesses and healthcare networks are gaining access to temporarily expanded cold storage capabilities.

Walk-In Freezers/Refrigerators

Restaurants typically have walk-in refrigerators and freezers built directly into the facility. While this solution won’t work for large-scale storage needs, grocery sellers are successfully using walk-in solutions in dark stores to store additional inventory in support of online sales.

A dark store acts as a micro-fulfillment center, dedicated solely to fulfilling online grocery orders. This option is especially feasible for grocery stores located in larger shopping centers with empty restaurant space, as these empty spaces already have some walk-in cold storage installed.

Think Inside the Freezer Box

Pelletized ice cream from Dippin’ Dots requires storage at -40°F, but the process actually led to the development of freezers that can reliably hold temperatures down to -122°F. As it turns out, these ice-cream freezers have applications across the medical and research sectors. While they have other medical and laboratory uses, pharmacies and hospitals have most recently been sourcing freezers from Dippin’ Dots Cryogenics to store COVID-19 vaccines. Purchase options from this and other various ultra-cold freezer manufacturers range in size from chest freezers up to TEU and FEU shipping containers.


If you have warehouse space to spare, it may be possible to convert it into cold storage. While this practice may not be optimal in the long-term, it does provide some additional storage capacity for frozen and/or refrigerated goods while the hunt for more advanced cold storage space continues.

This sort of conversion isn’t always optimal because the warehouse loses vertical space for ventilation and refrigeration equipment. It’s also worth noting that the costs associated with converting portions of a dry storage warehouse into cold storage are relatively high. In a pinch, however, this could be an option for businesses with nowhere to expand.

Ask Your 3PL for Help

Savvy third-party logistics (3PL) providers have been systematically expanding temperature-controlled asset portfolios over the past year to meet the growing needs of their e-commerce and pharmaceutical customers. If you need much more space than what the above options can provide, a 3PL is your best bet. In a tight-capacity market, the 3PL will locate the space you need in the market you need it. This service takes a lot of pressure off of your business and allows you to focus on core competencies, such as growth and revenue generation.

Leveraging the 3PL’s expertise will also help you to get more out of less cold storage space. A logistics provider will bring the weight of their experience and logistics technology to bear, ensuring that your temperature-controlled warehouse uses all available space in the most optimal way. This capability is especially important at times like these, when temperature-controlled industrial real estate is at maximum capacity.

About Phoenix Logistics

Strategic Real Estate. Applied Technology. Tailored Service. Creativity. Flexibility. These fundamentals reflect everything we do at Phoenix Logistics. We provide specialized support in locating and attaining the correct logistics solutions for every client we serve. Most logistic competitors work to win 3PL contracts, and then attempt to secure the real estate to support it. As an affiliate of giant industrial real estate firm Phoenix Investors, we can quickly secure real estate solutions across its portfolio or leverage its market and financial strength to quickly source and acquire real estate to meet our client’s need.

Frank P. Crivello is a Milwaukee-based developer and Chairman & Founder of Phoenix Investors.