Rebranding Vegas

I’m not sure if people will ever stop criticizing the food industry, or if Vegas will ever lose its bad boy image. But I think we are all capable of making our own decisions.

By Karen Langhauser, Editor-in-Chief, Food Manufacturing

A couple of weeks ago, many of us headed to the PACK and PROCESS Expos in Las Vegas. As I prepared for the trip, I found that I get the same response from all my friends and coworkers when I tell them where I’m going. It’s usually a sarcastic quip about how little work I’m going to get done, followed by a look that says, “I know what you’re up to, don’t worry, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”

Recent press has noted that even the mighty Sin City is not immune to the woes of the U.S. economy. A large part of these struggles has to do with Vegas’ reputation — a place crafted for overindulgence, irresponsibility and recreational spending — exactly what people are trying to avoid during a recession.
In short, when people think of Vegas, they usually do not think of conferences and business meetings. Big firms and politicians especially have started avoiding Las Vegas because they do not want the perception of frivolous spending associated with their organizations.

Las Vegas has been making a huge push to re-establish itself as a place of business — gearing its marketing towards executives and urging them to take advantage of the abundance of meeting halls, convention space and hotels offered in the city.

But rebranding isn’t easy. Just ask the food industry. In recent years there has been much talk about the food industry’s role in America’s obesity epidemic. The food industry, critics say, spends billions developing packaging and marketing campaigns that bait consumers into buying foods that are bad for them. Confusing labels, inconsistent information and deceptive nutritional facts are the relentless temptresses, luring consumers into bad decisions and eventually, bad health.

The food industry has tried from every possible angle to clear its bad name. Every major food company in America has expanded offerings to include some combination of low-fat, low-carb, low-sugar, no trans fat, all-natural, organic, vitamin-fortified, etc. etc. product. They have introduced new labels, new certifications, new seals of approval, new methods of relaying nutritional facts — anything that might help customers make informed decisions.

In my opinion, it’s easy to blame the food industry for our obesity problem, just as it’s easy to blame Las Vegas for our indiscretions. Just because temptations exist doesn’t mean we have to take advantage of them. This trip was my 11th visit to Vegas. As I looked down at my jam-packed schedule, I wonder how I’d possibly have the time (or energy) to get into the amount of trouble people were anticipating. But I did salvage the time for a few beers and some blackjack, which was followed by some really unhealthy food choices. I’m confident, however, that much of “what happened in Vegas” was work-related and my tradeshow experience was productive.

Despite the efforts, I’m not sure if people will ever stop criticizing the food industry, or if Vegas will ever lose its bad boy image. But I think we are all capable of making our own decisions, without being blinded by glitz and glamour.

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