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Top 50 3PL Providers: 3PLs face big challenges and huge rewards in 2022

Just like last year, 3PLs continue to face a host of critical and pressing issues that challenge their skills at managing a client’s supply chain. And while company financials for 2021 were staggering, the state of the market in 2022 depends on the pace of global recovery— which currently seems to be slowing.

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This is an excerpt of the original article. It was written for the July-August 2022 edition of Supply Chain Management Review. The full article is available to current subscribers.

July-August 2022

In late May, I attended the Institute for Supply Management’s first live conference since 2019. The message from Tom Derry, ISM’s CEO, was simple: These are challenging times, but along with the challenges come opportunities for those of us who can step up and lead our organizations into the future. One area where supply chain will be tasked with stepping up to the plate is going to be ESG, the initialism for environmental, social and governance. It was a major theme of the conference, and while all of the reporting requirements are still being debated, there’s little question that supply chain will lead the charge in environmental initiatives…
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Just when the world’s third-party logistics (3PL) providers thought they had seen the worst of the supply chain chaos, Russia invaded Ukraine and China implemented lockdown measures in Shanghai.

“The year 2021 was an interesting for both ocean and air,” reflects Tim Scharwath, CEO of DHL Global Forwarding. “But within the first two-and-half months of 2022, things became worse. We are, in a way, back to square one—back to the year 2021.”

Just like last year, 3PLs continue to face a host of critical and pressing issues that challenge their skills at managing a client’s supply chain.

“The biggest challenges facing us right now are very much like those facing shippers,” says Sri Laxmana, vice president of global forwarding for C.H. Robinson. “The include ongoing capacity constraints, shipping delays, port congestion, labor and equipment shortages, and continued disruption due to myriad factors, and most recently, the Russia-Ukraine war, COVID-19 outbreaks and local travel restrictions.”

Reuters recently cited a study by the Royal Bank of Canada that neatly encapsulates the problem. It states that one-fifth of the global container fleet is currently stuck due to congestion at various major ports. In early May, ships awaiting berth at the Port of Shanghai tallied 344—a 34% increase over April total.


Armstrong & Associates Top 50 U.S. 3PLs

(Largest U.S. 3PLs Ranked by 2021 Logistics Gross Revenue/Turnover)

2021 Rank Third-party Logistics Provider (3PL)

2021 Gross Logistics
Revenue (USD Millions)*

1C.H. Robinson22,355
2Expeditors16,524
3UPS Supply Chain Solutions14,639
4Kuehne + Nagel (Americas)12,980
5J.B. Hunt11,412
6XPO Logistics8,907
7DSV (North America)7,957
8GXO Logistics7,940
9Total Quality Logistics7,857
10Uber Freight6,440
11Transportation Insight Holding Company5,800
12DHL Supply Chain (North America)5,010
13Ryder Supply Chain Solutions4,612
14Worldwide Express4,600
15Burris Logistics4,300
16Hub Group4,232
17Lineage Logistics4,000
18Landstar3,838
19Schneider3,770
20DB Schenker (North America)3,750
21Echo Global Logistics3,745
22Penske Logistics3,700
23CEVA Logistics (North America)3,650
24MODE Global3,400
25NFI3,122
26GEODIS (North America)2,760
27Americold2,715
28AIT Worldwide Logistics2,292
29SEKO Logistics2,018
30FedEx Logistics1,920
31Knight-Swift Transportation1,900
32Kerry Logistics (Americas)1,860
33Werner Logistics1,837
34ArcBest1,810
35Omni Logistics1,798
36Capstone Logistics1,780
37Maersk Logistics (Americas)1,700
38TFI International (North America)1,662
39Arrive Logistics1,632
40Ascent1,600
40Crane Worldwide Logistics1,600
41BDP International1,552
42Universal Logistics Holdings1,502
43Pilot Freight Services1,350
44Kintetsu World Express (North America)1,327
45syncreon1,275
46Allen Lund1,225
47Ruan1,223
48Radial1,200
49Odyssey Logistics & Technology1,167

**Revenues cover all four 3PL Segments (DTM, ITM, DCC and VAWD), are company reported or A&A estimates, and have been converted to US$ using the
annual average exchange rate, as of April 2022. Copyright © 2022 Armstrong & Associates, Inc.


“It will take a very long to dig out of this,” says Lars Jensen, CEO of Vespucci Maritime. “There’s no buffer capacity in the system, and it will take very little to go to an even worse situation.” As an analogy, he compares vessels delays in February being akin to sinking the entire fleet of CMA CGM to the bottom of the ocean. “That is the real situation we’re still in.”

Adding fuel to the fire are rising rates and costs. “Shipping costs have been rising sharply across the supply chain, and have reached historically high rates globally,” says Nia Hudson, research analyst at London-based Transport Intelligence (Ti). “This is the case particularly on shipping routes from Asia to North America and Europe.”

Ti’s ocean freight tracker shows that in February 2022, rates on lanes from China/East Asia to the U.S. West Coast were up 175.6% year-on-year, while rates on the backhaul were up 30.2% year-on-year. Industry experts predict that shippers won’t see much rate relief until at least the third quarter of 2022. “Both DSV and Maersk have warned that freight costs are likely to remain high well into the year,” remarks Hudson.

Other affecting factors are rising oil prices, continued consumer demand, container shortages, and limited ocean and airfreight capacity, not to mention workforce shortages that have left 3PL providers facing high labor costs and fewer people to address volumes.

Critical cooperation

Nearly everyone in the industry concurs that these issues are unlikely to be resolved in the near term. However, 3PLs and shippers are continuing to work together to find creative ways to overcome challenges and keep goods moving. In fact, all parties involved in supply chain logistics are finding creative solutions to work together.

“We feel everyone, especially the ocean carrier community, is trying hard to help support our customers to find the right solutions to make everything that can be available, available,” says Scharwath. “Everything that can swim is on the waters these days.”

Laxmana points out how C.H. Robinson is helping shippers manage ocean shipping delays by shifting some of their freight from full-container-load (FCL) to less-than-container load (LCL) shipping, including expedited LCL. “This provides cost and time savings, and more ability to make last-minute changes amid longer wait times at the ports,” he says.

At the same time, J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. and BNSF are launching a joint effort to substantially improve capacity in the inland intermodal marketplace, while also meeting the expanding needs of current customers.

Armstrong & Associates Top 50 Global 3PLs

(Largest U.S. 3PLs Ranked by 2021 Logistics Gross Revenue/Turnover)

2021 Rank Third-party Logistics Provider (3PL)

2021 Gross Logistics
Revenue (USD Millions)

1Kuehne + Nagel40,838
2DHL Supply Chain & Global Forwarding37,707
3DSV28,974
4DB Schenker27,648
5C.H. Robinson22,355
6Sinotrans19,097
7Nippon Express18,612
8Expeditors16,524
9UPS Supply Chain Solutions14,639
10CEVA Logistics12,000
11GEODIS11,900
12J.B. Hunt11,412
13Kerry Logistics10,516
14Maersk Logistics9,830
15XPO Logistics8,907
16DACHSER8,333
17GXO Logistics7,940
18Total Quality Logistics7,857
19CJ Logistics7,700
20Toll Group7,260
21LX Pantos6,541
22Uber Freight6,440
23Hitachi Transport System5,995
24Transportation Insight Holding Company5,800
25Bolloré Logistics5,701
26Kintetsu World Express5,501
27GEFCO5,200
28Yusen Logistics5,000
29Ryder Supply Chain Solutions4,612
30Worldwide Express4,600
31Burris Logistics4,300
32Hub Group4,232
33SAIC Anji Logistics**4,183
34AWOT Global Logistics Group4,058
35Lineage Logistics4,000
36JD Logistics3,946
37Landstar3,838
38Schneider3,770
39Echo Global Logistics3,745
40Penske Logistics3,700
41Savino Del Bene3,538
42MODE Global3,400
43NFI3,122
44Culina Group2,985
45Hellmann Worldwide Logistics2,972
46C&D Logistics Group2,967
47Americold2,715
48EFL2,680
49Mainfreight2,467
50Sankyu2,457

 

Wider roles

Taking on a wider role, some of the biggest 3PLs are now dealing in end-to-end logistics, with companies increasingly trying to expand value-added services, achieve geographic expansion and accelerate company valuation.

As a result, mergers and acquisitions in the industry continue to take place. In fact, analysts say that mergers and acquisition activity is keeping pace with 2021.

In the airfreight and air transport sector, Kuwait’s Agility and its subsidiary National Aviation Service have made an offer for the UK based aircraft handling company John Menzies. GXO, the contract logistics spin-off of XPO, has bid for the UK 3PL Clipper Logistics, and MSC has just reached an agreement to acquire Bollore Africa Logistics.

C.H. Robinson is expanding its global and Asian reach by opening a new office in Beijing that will also serve as its North China airfreight logistics hub. It joins C.H. Robinson’s existing airfreight hubs in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hong Kong. “Organizations with scale are likely to remain ahead of the market, especially during times of intense market disruption,” comments Hudson.

Full steam ahead for diversified operations

Steamship lines are increasingly purchasing positions to marry their operations with those of 3PLs. This was particularly the case with Maersk in 2021.

“Maersk made no fewer than seven deals during the year, including several acquisitions that expanded its presence in the e-commerce market,” says Nia Hudson, research analysts with Transport Intelligence Ltd (Ti).

One deal occurred in August with Visible Supply Chain Management, a U.S.-based B2C and B2B e-commerce fulfillment provider followed in December by Maersk acquiring LF Logistics, a Hong Kong-based contract logistics provider specializing in omnichannel and e-commerce logistics. The LF deal adds some 223 warehouses across Asia Pacific to Maersk’s network that now covers 9.5 million square meters globally.

And just recently, on May 2, Maersk completed its $1.68 billion acquisition of Pilot Freight Services, a move the carrier sees as offering customized international, domestic, and cross-border logistics to its North America landside logistics capabilities for B2B and B2C distribution models.

If approved, Maersk will also expand its trans-Atlantic airfreight cargo capacity this year by acquiring Senator International in the second quarter of 2022.

For some shippers, using 3PLs with economies of scale offers wider benefits such as access to a larger network. “This is especially important for those shippers looking to expand into new territories,” remarks Hudson. “Working with providers of scale is also likely to benefit shippers through lower costs as production becomes more efficient.”

Consolidation within the market may also influence the visibility of shippers’ supply chains as 3PLs gain access to new capabilities and new technology. Some 3PLs have been taking action to reduce order fulfillment expenses and offset the high costs of freight and rent. “Several companies have increased investment in automation to alleviate labor shortage pressures and optimize warehouse space,” Hudson says.

DHL Supply Chain, for example, reported at the beginning of the year that it was investing $15 million in robotics solutions from Boston Dynamics to further automate warehouses in North America that would be designed specifically to remedy challenges within the warehouse space. “Many European companies—such as GEODIS, SEGRO, and DSV—are purchasing warehousing space nearer to the end customers in an attempt to keep costs as low as they can

3PLs are also introducing services with the intent of cutting costs. GXO’s Direct distribution network in North America, for example, places stock in strategically located distribution centers to provide shippers with a cost-effective, flexible distribution solution. “It’s these providers that are attempting to introduce cost-effective services that will be able to create additional value for consumers,” Hudson says.

Significant growth

The challenges have created vast opportunities for 3PLs—and their financials reflect this. Armstrong & Associates, Inc. (A&A) estimates that U.S. 3PL market gross revenues grew a whopping 50.3% in 2021, bringing the total to $347.9 billion.

A&A ranked C.H. Robinson No. 1 and estimated that the 3PL brought in $22.3 billion in gross revenues compared to $15.5 billion in 2020. For 2021, A&A ranked C.H. Robinson No. 5 globally, stating that C.H. Robinson’s Global Forwarding division more than doubled in 2021, with gross revenue growth of 117.1% to $6.7 billion. Its net revenue increased 70.7% to $1.1 billion.

“C.H. Robinson is now a top freight forwarder in the Asia to U.S. trade lane and with 1.5 million in total ocean export TEUs managed,” says Evan Armstrong, president of A&A. “It has surpassed long-time U.S.-headquartered competitor Expeditors International.”

Expeditors ranked No. 2 in A&A’s Top 50 U.S. 3PLs, outpacing XPO Logistics (No. 6 in 2021; No. 2 in 2020) and UPS Supply Chain Solutions (No. 3 in both 2021 and 2020). Its 2021 estimated gross revenues were $16.5 billion and $10.1 billion in 2020.

“Expeditors International is the largest U.S.-based international transportation management 3PL revenue-wise,” Armstrong says. A&A finds that Expeditors’ 2021 gross revenue increased 67.7% to $16.5 billion and net revenue grew 39.7% to $4.5 billion. Growth primarily came from ocean freight where gross revenue grew 137% to $5.5 billion from $2.3 billion in 2020.

Expeditor’s ocean freight consolidation business grew 194%, primarily on exports from Asia. Airfreight gross revenue was up 58% to $6.8 billion. Net revenue grew at a lesser rate due to increased costs of purchased transportation in both air and ocean, driving overall gross profit margin from 32.4% to 27% for 2021.

A&A finds that global player Kuehne + Nagel swapped places with DHL Supply Chain & Global Forwarding, by ranking No. 1 in 2021 as the largest global 3PL based on gross revenues. K+N grossed a whopping $40.8 billion in 2021 up from $25.8 billion in gross revenues in 2020 compared to DHL Supply Chain & Global Forwarding, which grossed an estimated $37.7 billion in 2021, up from $28.4 billion in 2020.

DSV rose to third place with 2021 gross revenues of $28.9 billion compared to $18.3 billion in 2020 when the company was DSV Panalpina.

Going forward in 2022

While company financials for 2021 were staggering, the state of the market in 2022 depends on the pace of global recovery, which currently seems to be slowing.

“The global economy has entered 2022 in a weaker position than expected,” adds Hudson. “It’s perhaps too early to fully understand the impact of these factors on the market. It has, however, been predicted that supply chain disruptions will level out by mid-2022 as inventory levels begin to normalize to pre-COVID levels and shipping capacities begin to increase, although this remains to be seen.”

Ti’s forecasts show that growth will therefore slow slightly in the coming years, growing by 7.0% year over year in 2022 and a CAGR of 4.7% by 2026. 

 

SC
MR

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From the July-August 2022 edition of Supply Chain Management Review.

July-August 2022

In late May, I attended the Institute for Supply Management’s first live conference since 2019. The message from Tom Derry, ISM’s CEO, was simple: These are challenging times, but along with the challenges come…
Browse this issue archive.
Access your online digital edition.
Download a PDF file of the July-August 2022 issue.

Just when the world’s third-party logistics (3PL) providers thought they had seen the worst of the supply chain chaos, Russia invaded Ukraine and China implemented lockdown measures in Shanghai.

“The year 2021 was an interesting for both ocean and air,” reflects Tim Scharwath, CEO of DHL Global Forwarding. “But within the first two-and-half months of 2022, things became worse. We are, in a way, back to square one—back to the year 2021.”

Just like last year, 3PLs continue to face a host of critical and pressing issues that challenge their skills at managing a client’s supply chain.

“The biggest challenges facing us right now are very much like those facing shippers,” says Sri Laxmana, vice president of global forwarding for C.H. Robinson. “The include ongoing capacity constraints, shipping delays, port congestion, labor and equipment shortages, and continued disruption due to myriad factors, and most recently, the Russia-Ukraine war, COVID-19 outbreaks and local travel restrictions.”

Reuters recently cited a study by the Royal Bank of Canada that neatly encapsulates the problem. It states that one-fifth of the global container fleet is currently stuck due to congestion at various major ports. In early May, ships awaiting berth at the Port of Shanghai tallied 344—a 34% increase over April total.


Armstrong & Associates Top 50 U.S. 3PLs

(Largest U.S. 3PLs Ranked by 2021 Logistics Gross Revenue/Turnover)

2021 Rank Third-party Logistics Provider (3PL)

2021 Gross Logistics
Revenue (USD Millions)*

1 C.H. Robinson 22,355
2 Expeditors 16,524
3 UPS Supply Chain Solutions 14,639
4 Kuehne + Nagel (Americas) 12,980
5 J.B. Hunt 11,412
6 XPO Logistics 8,907
7 DSV (North America) 7,957
8 GXO Logistics 7,940
9 Total Quality Logistics 7,857
10 Uber Freight 6,440
11 Transportation Insight Holding Company 5,800
12 DHL Supply Chain (North America) 5,010
13 Ryder Supply Chain Solutions 4,612
14 Worldwide Express 4,600
15 Burris Logistics 4,300
16 Hub Group 4,232
17 Lineage Logistics 4,000
18 Landstar 3,838
19 Schneider 3,770
20 DB Schenker (North America) 3,750
21 Echo Global Logistics 3,745
22 Penske Logistics 3,700
23 CEVA Logistics (North America) 3,650
24 MODE Global 3,400
25 NFI 3,122
26 GEODIS (North America) 2,760
27 Americold 2,715
28 AIT Worldwide Logistics 2,292
29 SEKO Logistics 2,018
30 FedEx Logistics 1,920
31 Knight-Swift Transportation 1,900
32 Kerry Logistics (Americas) 1,860
33 Werner Logistics 1,837
34 ArcBest 1,810
35 Omni Logistics 1,798
36 Capstone Logistics 1,780
37 Maersk Logistics (Americas) 1,700
38 TFI International (North America) 1,662
39 Arrive Logistics 1,632
40 Ascent 1,600
40 Crane Worldwide Logistics 1,600
41 BDP International 1,552
42 Universal Logistics Holdings 1,502
43 Pilot Freight Services 1,350
44 Kintetsu World Express (North America) 1,327
45 syncreon 1,275
46 Allen Lund 1,225
47 Ruan 1,223
48 Radial 1,200
49 Odyssey Logistics & Technology 1,167

**Revenues cover all four 3PL Segments (DTM, ITM, DCC and VAWD), are company reported or A&A estimates, and have been converted to US$ using the
annual average exchange rate, as of April 2022. Copyright © 2022 Armstrong & Associates, Inc.


“It will take a very long to dig out of this,” says Lars Jensen, CEO of Vespucci Maritime. “There’s no buffer capacity in the system, and it will take very little to go to an even worse situation.” As an analogy, he compares vessels delays in February being akin to sinking the entire fleet of CMA CGM to the bottom of the ocean. “That is the real situation we’re still in.”

Adding fuel to the fire are rising rates and costs. “Shipping costs have been rising sharply across the supply chain, and have reached historically high rates globally,” says Nia Hudson, research analyst at London-based Transport Intelligence (Ti). “This is the case particularly on shipping routes from Asia to North America and Europe.”

Ti’s ocean freight tracker shows that in February 2022, rates on lanes from China/East Asia to the U.S. West Coast were up 175.6% year-on-year, while rates on the backhaul were up 30.2% year-on-year. Industry experts predict that shippers won’t see much rate relief until at least the third quarter of 2022. “Both DSV and Maersk have warned that freight costs are likely to remain high well into the year,” remarks Hudson.

Other affecting factors are rising oil prices, continued consumer demand, container shortages, and limited ocean and airfreight capacity, not to mention workforce shortages that have left 3PL providers facing high labor costs and fewer people to address volumes.

Critical cooperation

Nearly everyone in the industry concurs that these issues are unlikely to be resolved in the near term. However, 3PLs and shippers are continuing to work together to find creative ways to overcome challenges and keep goods moving. In fact, all parties involved in supply chain logistics are finding creative solutions to work together.

“We feel everyone, especially the ocean carrier community, is trying hard to help support our customers to find the right solutions to make everything that can be available, available,” says Scharwath. “Everything that can swim is on the waters these days.”

Laxmana points out how C.H. Robinson is helping shippers manage ocean shipping delays by shifting some of their freight from full-container-load (FCL) to less-than-container load (LCL) shipping, including expedited LCL. “This provides cost and time savings, and more ability to make last-minute changes amid longer wait times at the ports,” he says.

At the same time, J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. and BNSF are launching a joint effort to substantially improve capacity in the inland intermodal marketplace, while also meeting the expanding needs of current customers.

Armstrong & Associates Top 50 Global 3PLs

(Largest U.S. 3PLs Ranked by 2021 Logistics Gross Revenue/Turnover)

2021 Rank Third-party Logistics Provider (3PL)

2021 Gross Logistics
Revenue (USD Millions)

1 Kuehne + Nagel 40,838
2 DHL Supply Chain & Global Forwarding 37,707
3 DSV 28,974
4 DB Schenker 27,648
5 C.H. Robinson 22,355
6 Sinotrans 19,097
7 Nippon Express 18,612
8 Expeditors 16,524
9 UPS Supply Chain Solutions 14,639
10 CEVA Logistics 12,000
11 GEODIS 11,900
12 J.B. Hunt 11,412
13 Kerry Logistics 10,516
14 Maersk Logistics 9,830
15 XPO Logistics 8,907
16 DACHSER 8,333
17 GXO Logistics 7,940
18 Total Quality Logistics 7,857
19 CJ Logistics 7,700
20 Toll Group 7,260
21 LX Pantos 6,541
22 Uber Freight 6,440
23 Hitachi Transport System 5,995
24 Transportation Insight Holding Company 5,800
25 Bolloré Logistics 5,701
26 Kintetsu World Express 5,501
27 GEFCO 5,200
28 Yusen Logistics 5,000
29 Ryder Supply Chain Solutions 4,612
30 Worldwide Express 4,600
31 Burris Logistics 4,300
32 Hub Group 4,232
33 SAIC Anji Logistics** 4,183
34 AWOT Global Logistics Group 4,058
35 Lineage Logistics 4,000
36 JD Logistics 3,946
37 Landstar 3,838
38 Schneider 3,770
39 Echo Global Logistics 3,745
40 Penske Logistics 3,700
41 Savino Del Bene 3,538
42 MODE Global 3,400
43 NFI 3,122
44 Culina Group 2,985
45 Hellmann Worldwide Logistics 2,972
46 C&D Logistics Group 2,967
47 Americold 2,715
48 EFL 2,680
49 Mainfreight 2,467
50 Sankyu 2,457

 

Wider roles

Taking on a wider role, some of the biggest 3PLs are now dealing in end-to-end logistics, with companies increasingly trying to expand value-added services, achieve geographic expansion and accelerate company valuation.

As a result, mergers and acquisitions in the industry continue to take place. In fact, analysts say that mergers and acquisition activity is keeping pace with 2021.

In the airfreight and air transport sector, Kuwait’s Agility and its subsidiary National Aviation Service have made an offer for the UK based aircraft handling company John Menzies. GXO, the contract logistics spin-off of XPO, has bid for the UK 3PL Clipper Logistics, and MSC has just reached an agreement to acquire Bollore Africa Logistics.

C.H. Robinson is expanding its global and Asian reach by opening a new office in Beijing that will also serve as its North China airfreight logistics hub. It joins C.H. Robinson’s existing airfreight hubs in Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hong Kong. “Organizations with scale are likely to remain ahead of the market, especially during times of intense market disruption,” comments Hudson.

Full steam ahead for diversified operations

Steamship lines are increasingly purchasing positions to marry their operations with those of 3PLs. This was particularly the case with Maersk in 2021.

“Maersk made no fewer than seven deals during the year, including several acquisitions that expanded its presence in the e-commerce market,” says Nia Hudson, research analysts with Transport Intelligence Ltd (Ti).

One deal occurred in August with Visible Supply Chain Management, a U.S.-based B2C and B2B e-commerce fulfillment provider followed in December by Maersk acquiring LF Logistics, a Hong Kong-based contract logistics provider specializing in omnichannel and e-commerce logistics. The LF deal adds some 223 warehouses across Asia Pacific to Maersk’s network that now covers 9.5 million square meters globally.

And just recently, on May 2, Maersk completed its $1.68 billion acquisition of Pilot Freight Services, a move the carrier sees as offering customized international, domestic, and cross-border logistics to its North America landside logistics capabilities for B2B and B2C distribution models.

If approved, Maersk will also expand its trans-Atlantic airfreight cargo capacity this year by acquiring Senator International in the second quarter of 2022.

For some shippers, using 3PLs with economies of scale offers wider benefits such as access to a larger network. “This is especially important for those shippers looking to expand into new territories,” remarks Hudson. “Working with providers of scale is also likely to benefit shippers through lower costs as production becomes more efficient.”

Consolidation within the market may also influence the visibility of shippers’ supply chains as 3PLs gain access to new capabilities and new technology. Some 3PLs have been taking action to reduce order fulfillment expenses and offset the high costs of freight and rent. “Several companies have increased investment in automation to alleviate labor shortage pressures and optimize warehouse space,” Hudson says.

DHL Supply Chain, for example, reported at the beginning of the year that it was investing $15 million in robotics solutions from Boston Dynamics to further automate warehouses in North America that would be designed specifically to remedy challenges within the warehouse space. “Many European companies—such as GEODIS, SEGRO, and DSV—are purchasing warehousing space nearer to the end customers in an attempt to keep costs as low as they can

3PLs are also introducing services with the intent of cutting costs. GXO’s Direct distribution network in North America, for example, places stock in strategically located distribution centers to provide shippers with a cost-effective, flexible distribution solution. “It’s these providers that are attempting to introduce cost-effective services that will be able to create additional value for consumers,” Hudson says.

Significant growth

The challenges have created vast opportunities for 3PLs—and their financials reflect this. Armstrong & Associates, Inc. (A&A) estimates that U.S. 3PL market gross revenues grew a whopping 50.3% in 2021, bringing the total to $347.9 billion.

A&A ranked C.H. Robinson No. 1 and estimated that the 3PL brought in $22.3 billion in gross revenues compared to $15.5 billion in 2020. For 2021, A&A ranked C.H. Robinson No. 5 globally, stating that C.H. Robinson’s Global Forwarding division more than doubled in 2021, with gross revenue growth of 117.1% to $6.7 billion. Its net revenue increased 70.7% to $1.1 billion.

“C.H. Robinson is now a top freight forwarder in the Asia to U.S. trade lane and with 1.5 million in total ocean export TEUs managed,” says Evan Armstrong, president of A&A. “It has surpassed long-time U.S.-headquartered competitor Expeditors International.”

Expeditors ranked No. 2 in A&A’s Top 50 U.S. 3PLs, outpacing XPO Logistics (No. 6 in 2021; No. 2 in 2020) and UPS Supply Chain Solutions (No. 3 in both 2021 and 2020). Its 2021 estimated gross revenues were $16.5 billion and $10.1 billion in 2020.

“Expeditors International is the largest U.S.-based international transportation management 3PL revenue-wise,” Armstrong says. A&A finds that Expeditors’ 2021 gross revenue increased 67.7% to $16.5 billion and net revenue grew 39.7% to $4.5 billion. Growth primarily came from ocean freight where gross revenue grew 137% to $5.5 billion from $2.3 billion in 2020.

Expeditor’s ocean freight consolidation business grew 194%, primarily on exports from Asia. Airfreight gross revenue was up 58% to $6.8 billion. Net revenue grew at a lesser rate due to increased costs of purchased transportation in both air and ocean, driving overall gross profit margin from 32.4% to 27% for 2021.

A&A finds that global player Kuehne + Nagel swapped places with DHL Supply Chain & Global Forwarding, by ranking No. 1 in 2021 as the largest global 3PL based on gross revenues. K+N grossed a whopping $40.8 billion in 2021 up from $25.8 billion in gross revenues in 2020 compared to DHL Supply Chain & Global Forwarding, which grossed an estimated $37.7 billion in 2021, up from $28.4 billion in 2020.

DSV rose to third place with 2021 gross revenues of $28.9 billion compared to $18.3 billion in 2020 when the company was DSV Panalpina.

Going forward in 2022

While company financials for 2021 were staggering, the state of the market in 2022 depends on the pace of global recovery, which currently seems to be slowing.

“The global economy has entered 2022 in a weaker position than expected,” adds Hudson. “It’s perhaps too early to fully understand the impact of these factors on the market. It has, however, been predicted that supply chain disruptions will level out by mid-2022 as inventory levels begin to normalize to pre-COVID levels and shipping capacities begin to increase, although this remains to be seen.”

Ti’s forecasts show that growth will therefore slow slightly in the coming years, growing by 7.0% year over year in 2022 and a CAGR of 4.7% by 2026. 

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