Waitrose is speeding up efforts to reduce food miles by cutting down on unnecessary journeys for its lorry fleet.

The retailer is to extend its backhauling and forward hauling initiatives in a bid to shave transport costs and improve its ethical credentials.

Backhauling, whereby lorries delivering to a store collect stock from a nearby supplier on the return journey, is to be implemented at Waitrose's regional distribution centres at Brinklow, near Milton Keynes, and Bardon, Leicestershire.

This will be in addition to a similar scheme already under way at its RDC in Bracknell.

At the same time, Waitrose is to develop forward hauling, whereby a supplier's lorry delivering to an RDC runs a store delivery on its return leg. The cost savings will be shared with suppliers.

Helen Heighes, manager of Waitrose's transport project team, said: "We want to optimise both our inbound and outbound transport movements to benefit both us and suppliers.

"We are now looking to increase backhauling. On the inbound side, we have been providing backhauling solutions for some time, and that saves the supplier from putting their own lorry on the road."

Heighes said that Waitrose was also keen to consolidate large volume deliveries from specific areas, possibly by using third party hauliers where it could not use its own fleet.

An example, she said, was the fact that all fruit, vegetables and horticulture products from East Anglia were now collected by a single haulier and driven in bulk to RDCs. "This is exactly the kind of consolidation model we want to roll out. We have already set up a smaller-scale model for some of our ambient and frozen suppliers and now want to establish a similar model for our chilled and Scottish ambient suppliers," said Heighes.

The chain also plans to make the most of its relationship with its parent retailer the John Lewis Partnership by extending the use of the department stores' lorry fleet to backhaul food.

JLP lorries already carry some products to RDCs on return trips from some English stores, and it is hoped that two John Lewis store openings in Edinburgh will mean the scheme can be extended north of the border.