Grocer Greens the Front End


Sunflower Farmers Market’s new thermal printers reduce paper usage at checkout by printing promotional coupons and receipts on two sides.

A great thing happened when Mike Gilliland, the co-founder and CEO of Sunflower Farmers Market, launched a sustainability initiative: His staff became a think tank of ideas. It was the IT team that suggested the supermarket make the transition to thermal printers—a project that is reducing paper and is expected to drive cost savings across the chain.

Sunflower Farmers Market opened its first full-service grocery store in Boulder, Colo., in 2003. Today, the privately held chain operates 20 stores. Produce drives 30% of the chain’s total sales, with a good portion of the assortment is dedicated to organic and natural foods. The addition of a sustainability program was an easy transition for the eco-conscious grocer.

The company’s sustainability mission was driven by the creation of the chain’s first eco-friendly store.

“The company built its first green store, from the ground up, in mid-2007,” said Lindsay Hicks, IT/IS director, Sunflower Farmers Market, Boulder, Colo. “It was our first location to feature eco-friendly construction, skylights and energy-efficient cooling systems.”

Pleased with the success of the store, Gilliland led the charge in adding other green solutions across the company, including solar power, and special parking lots for carpoolers and alternative-fuel vehicles. While engrossed in the procurement process of these projects, Gilliland had a green epiphany.

“He felt that a green store was only the first step toward sustainability,” Hicks said. “He announced he wanted to create a formal sustainability program. Then he challenged every member within the company’s respective departments to find ways to ‘go green.’”

Hicks wasted no time in tackling the task at hand. She alerted the industry’s major suppliers via e-mail that the company was embarking on a sustainability program. She explained that Sunflower wanted to add solutions that could save energy chain-wide.

Technology vendors submitted multiple proposals, but a two-sided thermal printer stood out among the rest.

The 2ST (short for two-sided thermal) printing technology, from Dayton, Ohio-based NCR, is a plug-and-play peripheral that sits at POS. It prints receipts on both sides of the receipt, simultaneously. While it can be used with traditional paper rolls, NCR suggests the best results are found when using its 2ST paper, produced from sustainable sources such as wood plantations, regulated forests, recycled sawmill waste and arboreal debris.

“Since we already used NCR POS units, integration was seamless,” Hicks said, adding that the unit’s functionality is equally simple.

As the printer receives a printing job from the POS computer, the unit is programmed to divide the job in half, based on its size. Then it prints evenly on both sides of the receipt.

Hicks’ team installed the first nine printers (one in each checkout lane) in its flagship Boulder store in April 2008. There are nine stores now using the technology, with plans to retrofit the chain’s remaining 11 stores with the printers.

Printing two-sided receipts is faster than producing traditional one-sided receipts, saving retailers power consumption as well as paper. Hicks reported that the company has invested a bit more capital in the required thermal paper, but results outweigh the cost.

“We have spent 1% more on the cost of paper, but the printer helps us to utilize 47% less paper overall,” Hicks said.

“Between the printer’s functionality and its adaptability to situations, there is a clear ROI,” Hicks added.

Sunflower Farmers Market is also exploring the functionality of the printer. For example, it is currently beta testing IBM POS units in some stores. Because the printer uses open standards, the chain is able to integrate the technology with other vendor’s hardware.

Meanwhile, the marketing team is testing vendor-sponsored bounce-back coupons in its store in Plano, Texas. Rather than print the promotion on one side, the printer delivers the promotion on both sides of the paper.

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