Some of the baking industry’s leading players have joined a scheme to cut water use by a fifth.

Premier Foods, Warburtons and United Biscuits are among 21 food and drink companies that have agreed to use less water in manufacturing.

The 21 businesses, which between them are worth some £15bn, have pledged a 20% cut by 2020, which would slash the industry’s estimated £300 million annual water bill.

The Federation House Commitment, spearheaded by the Food & Drink Federation (FDF) and government-backed resource efficiency advisers Envirowise, will tackle water efficiency as part of a five-pronged sustainability plan alongside carbon reduction, waste, packaging and transport.

Ross Warburton, executive director of Warburtons, commented: "We see resource efficiency as an environmental imperative. We are therefore delighted to work to improve our water efficiency and thereby conserve a precious resource."

Fiona Dawson, MD of Mars Snackfood UK and chair of the FDF’s steering group on sustainability, hailed it as "an historic voluntary agreement" that will enable companies to tackle water efficiency in a systematic way.

She said: "We are large users of water and therefore the savings that we can make are substantial. There are costs saving to be made and benefits for the environment."

The "substantial savings" could amount to £60m across the industry, she added.