Food-and-beverage vendors at gaming expo see improving sales, good potential

Everybody’s a germophobe in 2009, and that’s been great for Pat DeLaura’s business.

DeLaura, director of U.S. sales for hand-sanitizer company Germstar, said dodging H1N1 flu outbreaks is a hot topic among those attending this week’s Global Gaming Expo, and the heightened interest in hygiene is driving lots of traffic to his booth at the expo’s F&B at G2E show. Germstar’s sales have doubled in the last year.

"Everybody is coming by and saying, ‘We have to put this in,’ " DeLaura said of the company’s touchless, standing hand-sanitizer dispenser.

Germstar is one of many food-and-beverage-related com- panies angling for new leads through F&B at G2E, in town through Thursday at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Roughly 130 exhibitors line the meeting hall this week, compared with 100 vendors a year ago. (The show is closed to the public.)

Last fall, a slump in casino construction and smaller corporate travel budgets meant a waning appetite for booths at F&B at G2E. Now, though, food-and-beverage businesses say they’ve weathered the worst of the recession, and they’re banking on gaming expansion to spur improved sales. With gaming properties planned or under construction in markets from Ohio to Singapore to Macau, the casino sector offers growth prospects for food-and-beverage vendors, said Mark Birtha, vice president of development for Marriott International and a G2E advisory board member overseeing the show’s food-and-beverage, retail and entertainment segment.

"People realize the industry is still successful and there are new jurisdictions opening up. People still very much believe this business has long-term potential, and they’re still very interested in deals," Birtha said.

Several F&B at G2E vendors are at the show for the first time, undaunted by lingering economic malaise in gaming markets such as Las Vegas. Their sales have stayed strong thanks to efforts to offer unusual products or services, and it’s the perfect time to expand, they said.

Credit a cash-strapped public’s switch from steaks to hamburgers for part of the 25 percent annual increase in sales at Sheila Partin’s Sweet Sourdough.

The Texas business, which sells burger buns, hot dog buns and sandwich bread, services casinos in Louisiana, Mississippi and California, but has no toehold in Las Vegas. Vice President Bud Lynch brought Sheila Partin’s to F&B at G2E to change that.

"Bread products are popular in casinos, and this is where the casino executives are," Lynch said.

Lynch’s sales pitch revolved around going upscale with bread offerings. Rather than serving sandwiches and hot dogs on plain bread, sell them on tastier buns with flavors including onion, jalapeño and cheese or Italian seasonings. It’s affordable luxury: If consumers switch from a $30 filet to a $10 sandwich, restaurateurs can offer a better value with a distinctive bread.

For first-time G2E exhibitor Pepe’s, changing demographics make this the ideal time to pitch the Chicago company’s "real, old-fashioned" Mexican food to casinos, said co-owner Mario Dovalina.

Mexican food is the nation’s fastest-growing food category, and Hispanics make up a growing share of casinos’ work forces and customer bases, Dovalina said. Mexican food is also a high-value proposition, with its heavy emphasis on affordable staples such as beans and rice, he said.

Pepe’s is in about 40 small casinos in Southern Nevada, but Dovalina said he’d like to see his company’s food in all the local casinos.

Vendors returning to F&B at G2E also reported solid sales and strong growth potential.

At the booth belonging to the Original Cakerie of British Columbia, attendee traffic on Tuesday was down about 20 percent compared with 2008, said Doris Bitz, vice president of sales and marketing. But the folks who did stop by were more qualified to make food-and-beverage buying decisions, so the exhibition proved worthwhile. And though consumers order appetizers and desserts less frequently these days when they buy meals a la carte, strong business at buffets has helped the company expand overall sales.

That kind of surviving and thriving has bolstered attitudes among many food-and-beverage businesses, Birtha noted.

"Most people are cautiously optimistic," he said. "We’ve all seen the worst come and go. It’s been a challenging year for many people, and the landscape has changed going forward. But consumer confidence is coming back. People are pulling out their wallets and realizing they haven’t had a great dinner or vacation in a long time."

Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at or 702-380-4512.


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