NORTHFIELD, IL — A focused effort on making its distribution network more efficient has allowed Kraft Foods to save more than 50 million miles since 2005.

The food manufacturer is using a combination of alternative transportation and technology to cut its logistics footprint.

"We think about miles, piles and idles when moving our product," Steve Yucknut, Kraft's vice president of sustainability, said in a statement. "We're finding ways to drive fewer miles, reduce inventory piles and eliminate idling trucks."

Shipping wheat to a Toledo, Ohio, flour mill by ship rather than by truck, for example, helped Kraft avoid logging more than a million miles. That has eliminated the equivalent of 10,000 truck shipments and roughly 2,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions. Products are also now sent by boat to distribution centers in Brazil, avoiding nearly 250,000 miles and 300 tons of emissions.

Meanwhile, hybrid technologies are being used for store delivery vehicles, which avoids additional emissions through lower fuel consumption.

Rail is also taking a larger role in Kraft's transportation mix. Using train to ship goods related to on particular U.K. account eliminated 120 truck shipments and avoided more than 40,000 miles. Even more impressive is the switch to refrigerated rail in Austria, savings more than 150,000 miles.

Aside from using different shipping means, Kraft is also looking at shipping smarter. That means maximizing the amount of product per truckload and making sure trucks never travel with empty loads. The company's 20 largest facilities in North America use special software to optimize truck loads, which has cut more than a million miles from the system.

An initiative called Project MOST, or Management of Optimized Sustainable Transportation analyzes routes and devises new segments to cut back on empty miles, or when shipping trailers travel empty on return routes. Establishing centralized hubs in Slovakia and the Philippines has also allowed Kraft to make faster and fewer trips in those markets.

Image CC licensed by Flickr user Chilled Phill.