PARIS (Reuters) - Franprix has become the first French supermarket to reinstate waterway deliveries to the heart of Paris, with the aim of bypassing traffic-choked roads and saving costs.
Franprix, part of the Casino chain, is supplying 100 of its city centre stores via barges which are unloaded by crane on the River Seine near the Eiffel Tower, a short truck ride away from the shops.
The barges arrive daily from a warehouse to the east of Paris, bypassing the capital's traffic-choked ring-road and saving the retailer an annual 89,000 liters of diesel fuel.
While Franprix hails the move as a boon to the environment, it and other firms see a strategic advantage to switching more freight to water with road routes increasingly saturated and crude oil at over $100 a barrel
At full capacity, the largest barge convoys can carry 5,000 metric tons (5, 512 tons) of goods on the river, equivalent to 250 lorries, at half the cost of motorized transport and using three times less fuel.
Waterway use in France has risen 20 percent in the past five years, accounting for a still modest 3.6 percent of all freight. But French waterway authority, VNF, hopes to double that figure by 2025.
"The economic equation will only get better with time," said VNF development director, Philippe Mauge, who worked with Franprix on its aquatic delivery system.
Department store Galeries Lafayette and appliance-maker Bosch und Siemens Hausgeraete are already interested in sharing Franprix's logistics system, while Franprix itself is considering upping deliveries to get bigger economies of scale.
Editing by Mark John and Stephen Nisbet