The requirements for food labeling are constantly changing and often becoming more stringent. So continual innovation is a familiar business model for Inland in La Crosse, Wis. Earlier this year, the company dropped “Label” from its name to indicate the broadening of its business model and signal the company’s rebranding.

Inland produces labels in cut-and-stack, in-mold, pressure-sensitive, blow-mold and shrink varieties and offers offset, gravure and flexo printing. It produces labels for the beverage, food and consumer products markets. Inland helps its customers select the correct label substrate, size, shape, ink, coating and print press combination to reduce waste and eliminate costs from the entire supply chain. It says it often saves its customers 1 percent to 3 percent annually through value-engineering.

“Value-engineering comes from looking at how we put our customer first,” COO David Slain declares. “Instead of trying to find ways to charge more, we’re in the marketplace where everybody has to be able to compete. So we have to come up with ways that our customers can differentiate themselves through cost or innovation.”

Inland produces labels in quantities from 25,000 to 100 million. “You have to be willing to think differently,” Slain continues. “Sometimes, a size change in a label of just a millimeter can have a substantial, 2 percent impact overall.”

Injection in-mold labels are being emphasized more at Inland. “We’ve been working on injection in-mold labels for the last 10 years, and it’s been growing nicely for the last five,” Marketing Manager Jackie Kuehlmann explains. “The business is still very small in comparison to other label types. It took much longer to actually take hold in North America because of the amount of established infrastructure.”

Examples of injection in-mold labels are found on many products, most recently seen in the dairy aisle on margarine tubs and cream cheese containers. “From a brand owner’s standpoint, the graphics are much better,” Kuehlmann says. “Before, they would have had a direct screen print with two-color, very minimal graphics. With an injection in-molded label, we can do full-color, photographic-quality graphics.”

The Four Advantages
Slain cites four of Inland’s competitive advantages. “The first overarching advantage is customer satisfaction,” Slain says. “And how do we make sure our customers are satisfied? It starts with people. We have to have the right people in thinking and action to be able to support customers’ needs. Then proper reinvestment that allows the people’s ideas and actions to come to reality. Finally, we have to be service-oriented. If we do those things, our customers will be extremely satisfied, because we’ll be doing it at a very low cost and in a new and different way, which puts us at an advantage.”

Of course, price is still important. “Cost is the overriding factor along with value for most companies,” Slain confirms. “As long as you have both, you’re good.” Having key supplier partners is also necessary to hold down costs and satisfy customers. “Without their involvement in allowing us to do the things that we do to help lower costs and innovate, we couldn’t get it done as quickly or as affordably,” Slain emphasizes. “They’re a big part of that.”

One longtime supplier to Inland is AR Metalllizing. “AR Metallizing is a very good partner of ours,” Slain says. “Together, we’ve been able to do a lot of good things that allow us and our customers a lot of wins. They make the metallized paper that we make into labels and ship to our customers, mainly beer. However, I know that they are very interested in getting into a lot of other segments.”

Family ownership enables the company to control the amount of reinvestment in the business. “Being privately held and having owners that are very interested and active in the business is an advantage,” CEO Mark Glendenning, grandson of the founder, points out. “My family loves the business. Because we’re active in it, we can see the trends and changes and invest a bit ahead of the curve. For our good customers, we think nothing of investing in new equipment and new processes to help their business grow. If you want to be in the markets we play in, you’re going to have to continually invest.”

Two Facilities
Inland has two facilities in La Crosse, Wis., that provide a total of 320,000 square feet of manufacturing and warehouse space. The facility on Airport Road houses six offset presses and a multitude of finishing equipment, all installed since 2008. Four new pieces of cutting equipment have been added this year, at Airport Road and the West Avenue gravure and flexo facility, to handle the company’s straight-cut and die-cut capacity needs.

A new flexo press has just been added at the West Avenue facility, and two additional offset presses are expected on Airport Road in October. An additional 50,000-square-foot building to house Inland’s finished goods warehousing and distribution will be located a short distance from the Airport Road facility.

These expansions are driven not only by Inland’s organic growth, but also by the company’s activity in mergers and acquisitions (M&A). “We are working closely on mergers and acquisitions that get us even further into the flexo market,” Slain announces.

This contrasts with the company’s approach in the past. “What we’ve normally done is we’ve grown organically throughout the history that my family has owned the business, a little over 70 years,” Glendenning adds. “We looked at how fragmented our industry is, and it made sense to start to look at M&A. That started a couple years ago and now we’re pretty excited about it, because we see key advantages for us that would be hard to do organically.”

Inland competes in specialized markets. “Our plans always are to identify a market and a niche that allows us to provide a service to our customer that is exceptional and different from the rest,” Slain says. “What we want to do is excel in that niche market. We’re analyzing different market segment all the time, but we do limit the number of things we work on at once.”

Besides its other capabilities, Inland has added shrink labels and is also just beginning to offer flexible packaging options. “The lines are definitely starting to blur between what used to be known as a label and what is single-serve flexpack,” Slain notes.

Approximately 25 percent of Inland’s volume is exported to Canada, and the company also has customers in the United Kingdom, Latin America and China and some in Russia.

For the future, Glendenning sees additional growth. “We’ve been able to more than double our business every decade,” he points out. “We will be sprinkling in some M&A within that, because it will allow us to grow faster than we could organically.”