It’s a big world out there and there’s a lot of freight moving around it. Every year, millions of tons of cargo are transported between nations. This work is shouldered by thousands of transportation companies. Namely, freight forwarders handle the majority of these shipments.
All told, there are hundreds of competent freight forwarders currently in operation. Though most of these companies have the resources, wherewithal, expertise and infrastructure needed to get the job done for your business, choosing a single provider from the field — or a couple of them — can feel overwhelming.
As a crucial part of your supply chain, it’s imperative that the freight forwarder you trust is the absolute best fit for your business. But what does this actually look like?
Here at Anderson Trucking Service (ATS), our international division has been operating as a non-vessel operating common carrier (NVOCC) since 1992. Over three decades of service, ATS International has developed a well-rounded process for providing freight forwarding services at the highest level — a fact we’re proud of.
Though our international team focuses primarily on breakbulk and project cargoes, our expertise extends beyond this realm, leaving us confident in our ability to meet nearly every shipper’s needs.
However, ATS International is certainly not the right provider for every company. And, in a marketplace full of some pretty great alternatives, you may find better luck with another freight forwarder. To ensure your supply chain is in good hands, whether you utilize ATS International or not, this article will do two things:
- List the eight top global freight forwarder companies
- Give you four tips for selecting the best freight forwarder for your business
The companies included in this list are ranked based on the volume of twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) they reportedly shipped in 2021. While this is not a comprehensive list of the best forwarders, below you’ll find companies that consistently rank among the largest in the industry.
Top 8 Global Freight Forwarding Companies (Based on Their 2021 Ocean TEU Numbers)
- Kuhne + Nagel
- DHL Global Forwarding
- DSV Global Transport and Logistics
- DB Schenker
- C.H. Robinson
- Kerry Logistics
2021 Ocean Freight TEUs*: 13,890,000
2020 TEUs*: 13,090,000
TEU Change YOY (2020 to 2021): 6.11 percent increase
Headquarters Location: Beijing, China
Founded Date | Location**: 2002 | Beijing, China
Ownership: Publicly traded
2021 Operating Staff*: 33,449 (total employees)
Service Offerings**: Sea, air, rail transportation, supply chain security, terminals and container yards, feeder/barges.
Core Industries Served**: Consumer goods and retail, electronics and high tech, automotive and industrial manufacturing, international supply chain, medical health, supply chain finance, project logistics, chemical logistics, cold chain logistics, exhibition logistics.
*According to the Sinotrans’ 2021 annual report
**According to Sinotrans’ website
Kuehne + Nagel
2021 Ocean Freight TEUs*: 4,613,000
2020 TEUs*: 4,529,000
TEU Change YOY (2020 to 2021): 1.85 percent increase
Headquarters Location: Schindellegi, Switzerland
Founded Date | Location**: 1890 | Bremen, Germany
Ownership: Publicly traded
2021 Operating Staff*: 11,806
Service Offerings**: Sea, air, road transportation fulfillment, warehousing and distribution, project logistics, customs clearance, insurance, supply chain management 4PL, eCommerce, supply chain consulting, order management.
Core Industries Served**: Aerospace, automotive, consumer, healthcare, high-tech, industrial, perishables.
*According to the Kuehne + Nagel 2021 annual report
**According to Kuehne + Nagel’s website
DHL Global Forwarding
2021 Ocean Freight TEUs*: 3,142,000
2020 TEUs*: 2,891,000
TEU Change YOY (2020 to 2021): 8.68 percent increase
Headquarters Location: Bonn, Germany
Founded Date | Location**: 1815 | Basel, Switzerland
Ownership: Publicly traded
2021 Operating Staff*: Around 45,000
Service Offerings**: Sea, air, rail, road transportation fulfillment, customs services, shipment value protection, industrial projects, purchase order management, domestic solutions, multimodal solutions.
Core Industries Served**: Automotive, chemicals, consumer, engineering and manufacturing, energy, life science and healthcare, perishable foods, public sector, retail, technology, wine and spirits.
*According to the DHL Group’s Annual Report
**According to DHL Global Forwarding’s website
DSV Global Transport and Logistics
2021 Ocean Freight TEUs*: 2,493,951
2020 TEUs*: 2,204,902
TEU Change YOY (2020 to 2021): 13.1 percent increase
Headquarters Location: Hedehusene, Denmark
Founded Date | Location: 1976 | Skuldelev, Denmark
Ownership: Publicly traded
2021 Operating Staff*: 24,675
Service Offerings**: Sea, air, road, rail transportation fulfillment, special project transport, courier, customs clearance, insurance, purchase order management, eCommerce, warehousing.
Core Industries Served**: Automotive, technology, healthcare, renewable energy, industrial, retail/fashion.
*According to DSV’s 2021 annual report
**According to DSV’s website
2021 Ocean Freight TEUs*: 2,003,000
2020 TEUs*: 2,052,000
TEU Change YOY (2020 to 2021): 2.37 percent decrease
Headquarters Location: Essen, Germany
Founded Date | Location: 1872 | Vienna, Austria
Ownership: Owned by Deutsche Bahn which is publicly traded
2021 Operating Staff*: 76,114
Service Offerings**: Sea, air, road transportation fulfillment, contract logistics, lead logistics, global projects and industry solutions.
Core Industries Served**: Aerospace and defense, automotive, battery, beverages, cloud computing, consumer, electronics, fashion and retail, healthcare, industrial, marine parts, perishables, oil and gas logistics, recyclables, semicon and solar.
*According to DB Schenker’s 2021 Integrated Report
**According to DB Schenker’s website
2021 Ocean Freight TEUs**: 1,500,000
Headquarters Location: Eden Prarie, Minnesota, U.S.
Founded Date | Location: 1905 | Grand Forks, North Dakota, U.S.
Ownership: Publicly Traded
2021 Operating Staff*: 16,877
Service Offerings**: Air freight, flatbed, intermodal, less-than-container load, less than truckload, ocean shipping, rail shipping, small parcel, truckload, temperature controlled, expedited freight, cross-border, customs and trade compliance, last mile, managed procurement services, managed services, project logistics, supply chain consulting, warehousing.
Core Industries Served**: Aerospace, automotive, chemicals and plastics, energy solutions, floral, food and beverage, healthcare, industrial, paper and packaging, perishables, retail.
*According to C.H. Robinson’s 2021 annual report
*According to C.H. Robinson’s website
2021 Ocean Freight TEUs*: 1,229,298
Headquarters Location: Hong Kong
Founded Date | Location: 1981 | Hong Kong
Ownership: Publicly Traded
2021 Operating Staff**: 19,070
Service Offerings**: Integrated logistics, air freight, ocean freight, land freight, industrial project logistics, multimodal, eCommerce, supply chain solutions, express, customs brokerage, insurance brokerage consultancy, records management, relocation, project engineering, digitalization.
Core Industries Served**: Fashion and lifestyle, electronics and technology, food & beverage, F&B trading, wines & spirits, FMCG, pharmaceutical and healthcare, industrial and material science, automotive, art logistics.
*As reported by Armstrong & Associates
**According to Kerry Logistics’ website
2021 Ocean Freight TEUs***: 1,047,725
2020 TEUs**: 1,125,137
TEU Change YOY (2020 to 2021): 6.9 percent decrease
Headquarters Location: Seattle, Washington, U.S.
Founded Date | Location: 1979 | Seattle, Washington, U.S.
Ownership: Publicly Traded
2021 Operating Staff*: 19,070
Service Offerings****: Air, ocean, multimodal, ground, project cargo, customs brokerage, supply chain order management, supply chain security, supply chain design and optimization, supply chain delivery management, warehousing and distribution.
Core Industries Served****: Automotive, aviation and aerospace, beer, wine and spirits, fashion, healthcare, manufacturing, oil and energy, retail, start-ups, technology.
*According to Expeditors’ 2021 annual report
**As estimated by Armstrong & Associates, Inc.
***As estimated by Armstrong & Associates, Inc.
**** According to Expeditors’ website
4 Tips for Choosing Your Freight Forwarder This Year
With this list of the top freight forwarders in 2023, you have a great foundation upon which to start your search. It’s highly likely that a few of these companies will fit your needs perfectly.
That said, here are four things you should keep in mind when selecting a freight forwarder — regardless of whether they made this list:
- Their freight forwarder industry affiliations
- Their experience
- Their technology usage
- Their financial stability and standing
Let’s briefly touch on why each of these is so important in a freight forwarder provider.
1 | Their Freight Forwarder Industry Affiliations
There are quite a few agent networks, transportation clubs and organizations where great forwarders come together to share best practices, fine-tune their collective expertise and increase their understanding of key issues.
You should find a freight forwarder that involves themselves in these organizations. This involvement displays a forwarder’s commitment to top-of-the-line service — this is the type of commitment you deserve.
Though this is not a comprehensive list, some well-known forwarder clubs and networks to look for are:
- Global Freight Alliance (GFA)
- Octopus Freight Network (OFN)
- Global Logistics Network
- The World Freight Alliance (WCA)
The freight forwarder you choose doesn’t need to be in every organization, but make sure they have some involvement in them.
2 | Their Experience
Making it as a freight forwarder isn’t easy as no two shipments are the same. As such, depth of experience says a lot about a freight forwarder and its ability to come through when it matters most. The right set of experiences ensures a forwarder will have the tools you need to get the job done.
When vetting a provider, make sure to lean in and ask important questions about their level of experience. Examples of these queries are:
- Which regions of the world do you move goods to/from most frequently?
- Which regions of the world do you move goods to/from least frequently?
- What commodities do you transport most often?
- What services are you most familiar with moving?
- Do you have a wide network of carriers around the world?
- Is there anything you aren’t comfortable moving?
The answer to questions like these should give you a good understanding of their experience and whether they’ll make a good partner.
3 | Their Technology Usage
As a company operating in the digital age, there are countless products designed to help a freight forwarder offer its services at the highest level. The level to which a forwarder utilizes and makes investments in these tools directly reflects their commitment to service quality.
Make sure each forwarder you utilize is on the cutting edge and takes steps to continually remain there by asking them questions like:
- What do you do to make sure your technologies are up to date?
- Do you offer a load-tracking database?
- Do you offer electronic data interchange (EDI) capabilities?
- Which technological tools do your customers find most helpful and will they benefit my business?
4 | Their Financial Stability and Standing
A forwarder’s ability to service its customer’s needs is far stronger if it's in a financially sound position. You see, international transportation services aren’t inexpensive and providing them at a high level is no different. Make sure your forwarder has a sound financial infrastructure before ever bringing them on. This will ensure their head is in the game and they have the resources required to keep your supply chain running.
Beyond this, financially stable freight forwarders can help their customers navigate the financial realities of international freight shipping by funding many aspects of their transport concept — a concept they formulated — in advance.
This helps to keep these shipments on track and mitigate delays as dollars flow in the direction they’re needed. Not all freight forwarders are stable enough to perform this function. As such, make sure that the forwarder you select is backed by a history of stability and the company infrastructure you need.
Keep Your International Supply Chain Running Smoothly
We get it: sometimes it feels like the deck is stacked against you when choosing transportation providers. Unfortunately, the success of your supply chain and the reputation of your company hinges on your ability to get this right.
Now that you have a handle on what to look for in a freight forwarder and a list of the top providers in 2023, you’re one step closer to this goal.
To help you round out your knowledge of international shipping, check out the ATS Learning Hub’s robust library of international transportation content.
Finally, if you’re interested to learn more about how the team at ATS International can help you get your freight where it needs to go in the most efficient and cost-effective manner possible, check out our services page here!