1180 American Drive, Neenah, WI 54956 USA
This year, Neenah, WI-based Outlook Group celebrates its 40th anniversary. Founded in 1977 in Wisconsin as an offset printer, the company initially printed baseball cards, as well as the popular Trivial Pursuit board game cards, and then moved into the direct mail market. By 1980, Outlook Group established its headquarters at a 30,000 square foot facility in Neenah, which has since been expanded – five separate times – to its current size of more than 345,000 square feet of office, production and warehouse space. There have been several periods of transition and major milestones reached throughout Outlook Group’s history. The company entered the label market in 1989, with the purchase of Olympic Label. Another major milestone took place on April 24, 1991, with the initial public offering of 1,561,372 shares of common stock at $11.50 per share. The offering raised $16.2 million, which was used to reduce debt, expand manufacturing facilities and purchase new equipment.
In the ensuing decade, Outlook Group added paper sheeting, UV coating, diecutting, foil stamping and embossing capabilities, along with new presses and equipment. In 2010, Outlook Group consolidated its flexible packaging and label facilities and moved them to Neenah while adding operational efficiencies that helped support the company’s growing contract packaging segment of the business. In 2016, Outlook Group merged with M&Q Packaging, a manufacturer of high specification films, flexible packaging and bags, further adding to the company’s diverse range of products and services.
Today, labels account for just under half of Outlook Group’s business, which is a significant portion considering the wide array of products offered – paperboard and flexible packaging, specialty printed products and contract packaging solutions, in addition to labels. Joel Schmidt, market development manager, explains, “In broad terms, we are providing branding and identification solutions for our customers. We offer a wide variety of label formats – pressure sensitive, cut and stack, roll applied/roll-on labels and shrink sleeves – we have pretty broad capabilities.”
Within its label segment, Outlook Group services a variety of markets, including food and beverage, consumer goods, medical device labels, and labels for warehouse management and retail applications.
Prime label printing is an area of focus. “Our customers require labels for branding,” explains Kevin Hayes, executive vice president. “We also do a fair amount of variable data for chain of custody or tracking. Sometimes we combine the variable data capability with a brand. In addition, we produce labels for couponing and promotional products, such as label-on-label combinations – promotional products to support branding.”
Outlook Group’s label capabilities are numerous. The company is a G7 Master Printer certified for color matching and can print labels via flexographic, gravure and digital print processes.
The most recent flexo press installation for Outlook Group took place in April 2017 with the addition of its second MPS EF press – less than two years after purchasing its first MPS press. The new machine is a 17", 8-color press with automated print pressure settings.“We looked at the success of our first MPS press from the standpoint of production speed, waste reduction and print quality,” says Brett Peters, senior process engineer at Outlook Group. “We tracked press metrics very closely. The opportunity to add a second machine presented itself, and we were able to quickly justify the project and move forward.”
Schmidt adds, “This new press will contribute to our expansion plans for continued label growth, particularly on PSLite thin film labels to support market interest in more sustainable label options that also provide enhanced shelf appeal.”
PSLite is Outlook Group’s trademarked thin film label technology that uses up to 75% less material. Microliner is another innovative product the company offers that helps brand owners achieve sustainability goals. It utilizes a thin release liner technology that produces up to 80% less label liner waste.
Outlook Group recently invested in its first standalone digital label press, a Domino N610i UV inkjet press. It was brought in initially to take some of the short run business off of flexo presses but is now being used across multiple segments. “We’re really learning more and more about what we can do with the technology,” Hayes explains. “Digital printing is allowing us to address a broader group of clients. With shorter run equipment and the higher speeds the Domino provides, we are able to play in new markets and attract new customers. And we marry that up under a G7 Master Printer environment – so it all looks and feels the same. The Domino press allows us to address lead time issues with our customers. We can move quickly and print, and within hours have the product on its way to the customer. The technology allows us to do a lot of things for our customers that we couldn’t do previously.”
While the Domino N610i is Outlook Group’s first digital label press, it’s not its first experience with digital printing. Outlook Group and Domino have worked together for several years, with Outlook Group having integrated a Domino K600i digital UV inkjet printer onto a flexo press for adding variable data to flexo-printed labels. The K600i and N610i are based on the same technology, thus making the N610i a natural progression for Outlook Group advancing its digital printing capabilities.
“At Outlook Group, our mission is to save our customers time by finding solutions that are efficient, innovative and sustainable. Domino helps us with that, they’ve been helping us for 12 years and will continue to do so in the future,” concludes Hayes. –Steve Katz