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What size vehicle should you choose? It depends on how much you’ll be delivering — and to where.

Transporting perishables to consumers’ doorsteps is a tricky business, so it’s important to choose the best vehicle and refrigeration unit for every job.

While the worst of the pandemic may be behind us, it’s clear that online grocery shopping is here to stay. But in order to safely transport frozen and refrigerated products from a fulfillment center or store to the customer’s front door, retailers need the proper equipment. Choosing the right vehicle and the right refrigeration unit are key to delivering products on time and at the correct temperature. But it’s not always straightforward, and what works for one retailer may not work for another.


Many variables should be considered when selecting a truck or van. Here are three of the most important:

Vehicle size. To help determine the size truck or van your business requires, estimate the average weight and volume of the products you will be delivering and the number of deliveries made per day. It’s also important to think about the road profile. Will you mostly be navigating narrow city streets? Or are you traveling longer distances and driving in more suburban areas where a larger vehicle can maneuver easily?

Even short periods at a higher-than-optimal temperature, including during transit, can considerably reduce food quality.

Insulation. The types of products you haul will determine the type and thickness of insulation the vehicle requires. For example, the temperature needed to transport fresh flowers is very different from the temperature needed to transport ice cream. It can be tempting to cut corners to save money upfront, but doing so won’t necessarily translate to a positive ROI. Yes, installing three inches of insulation instead of four will save you a few bucks now. But if three inches of insulation isn’t enough for the type of products you are transporting, food safety and product quality will be at risk. For every 10.8-degree rise in temperature, the shelf life of stored food decreases by half. So even short periods at a higher-than-optimal temperature, including during transit, can considerably reduce food quality.

Shelving. When upfitting your vehicle, installing shelves in the back can help keep products from being damaged in transport. Shelving also supports easy loading and unloading.


Once retailers choose the right vehicle to meet their needs, it’s important to equip it with a refrigeration unit that guarantees delivery at just the right temperature. But again, selecting the optimal unit depends on the application. Since the majority of online grocery orders include both fresh and frozen food, most delivery trucks will require a multi-temperature unit.

Here are three things to consider when selecting a refrigeration unit:

Proper size. Just like in your home, a refrigeration unit that is too big or too small for your vehicle size and application won’t run efficiently — especially if you live in a region that experiences extreme heat and humidity. When the refrigeration unit isn’t big enough, the system won’t have enough capacity to pull and/or hold the desired temperature.

A few important variables will help determine the size of the refrigeration unit your business needs:

• Regional ambient temperature

• Temperature set point needed for the type of product
you’re hauling

• The number of times the vehicle doors are opened throughout the day and how long the doors remain open

• Type and thickness of insulation

Efficiency levels. Selecting high-efficiency refrigeration equipment will help reduce costs and fuel consumption by optimizing performance according to capacity demand.

Precooling. To operate your fleet as efficiently as possible, it’s vital to precool your vehicle. This can be done two ways: using electric standby power or through the vehicle engine using fuel. The most sustainable option is to precool the vehicle with electric power. This minimizes vehicle running time and helps the truck or van temperature recover faster. Not only will this save on fuel costs, but it will also decrease emissions.

By choosing the proper delivery vehicle with an optimal amount of insulation as well as the appropriate refrigeration unit for their purposes, retailers can minimize food safety risks and maximize product quality. Next month, I’ll discuss best practices for food safety and transportation. n

Jordyn Purvins

Jordyn Purvins is the vehicle-powered truck product manager for Thermo King North America, a division of Trane Technologies. She oversees product requirements, pricing, promotional strategy, and marketing leadership for new product development and is instrumental in ensuring the customer’s voice is represented in all new products.

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