Southeast Produce Council's 2023 Southern Exposure Wraps With "Out-Of-This-World" Success; Tim Graas, Jeff Cady, Kristin Yerecic Scott, Mary Heslep, and David Sherrod Comment
ORLANDO, FL - The produce pack is dispersing after having gathered for one of the first key events of 2023, one which I hope was a barometer for the remainder of the year. Memories were made, innovations introduced, and perhaps a few shoes kicked off in the name of a good time at the Southeast Produce Council’s annual Southern Exposure this past weekend.
With over 3,000 registered attendees, over 650 of which sported buy-side badges ranging from foodservice such as Sysco to retailers like Hy-Vee, Food Lion, Publix, and more, it was a packed house at Orlando, Florida’s Swan & Dolphin Resort.
"We couldn’t have asked for a better show," Tim Graas, Chairman of the Board, Southeast Produce Council and Executive Director of Produce, Associated Wholesale Grocers, shared. "Record-breaking attendance, record-breaking buyer numbers, and record-breaking fun! My platform this year of Inspiring Innovation Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow is a challenging topic to translate into a trade show. But I am proud of what the team put together! We really only started the sustainability conversation in our first education session, followed by the ever-popular Power of Produce, and on to our two amazing keynote speakers. Sonia Lo’s discussion opened some eyes with her discussion on CEA and Kimberly Williams-Paisley’s work with food insecurity and how we can all get involved was fantastic! Many thanks to all who helped put this together, our awesome keynote speakers, our retailer panel, the SEPC team and boards, and each of our attendees for being here. See you all in Charlotte in the fall!"
Jeff Cady, Vice President of Produce and Floral for Tops Friendly Markets, also commented on the achievements of this event.
“Another successful Southern Exposure show full of energy and passion throughout,” Jeff reflected on the show floor with me. “I like this show in particular because it has all the folks I want to see with a healthy mix of innovation and new vendors. The Innovation Station as a hallway, specifically, was a great idea for quick access to the latest information, easily navigated.”
Indeed, a strategic layout definitely stood prominently as part of my show experience, with the Innovation Stations requiring one team member to highlight a new product, product line, or service attendees knew per guidelines would be launched before July of this year and had only been presented to market since September of 2022.
Set up in open rows along a hallway connecting the two rooms of the show floor, this not only integrated the showcase successfully into the experience but tied everything together so that traffic felt fluid and evenly dispersed.
Of course, it helps that the agenda and location ensured much of the exposition, which took place Saturday, March 4, from 11:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., was more a reunion and highlight reel of fun moments already experienced over the previous days.
Whether it was at Thursday’s Tom Page Golf Classic, one of the several networking events such as the STARS Cocktails & Careers, the increasingly popular Southern Roots Luncheon, or any of the insightful education sessions in between, there was much to reflect on before the doors to the official expo were even opened.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better turn out at our education sessions,” Kristin Yerecic Scott, Marketing Director at Yerecic Label and member of the Board of Directors at Southeast Produce Council said just hours after a wonderful conversation between herself and Celebrity Keynote Speaker Kimberly Williams-Paisley, who, amid being a successful actor, author, and mother, has set herself to helping be a solution to food insecurity. With her husband Brad Paisley, she has opened a non-profit, free, referral-based grocery The Store in Nashville, Tennessee.
“Our attendees are raving about both session panels and the insights they were able to glean,” Kristin confirmed.
Truly, between Paisley and the very accomplished Sonia Lo, Chief Executive Officer at Unfold who offers both a wealth of experience scaling indoor agriculture operations and business acumen; a degree in political science; a minor in mathematics from Stanford University; and an MBA with Distinction from Harvard Business School, there was a variety of knowledge served with breakfast before Saturday’s ribbon-cutting to say the least!
“You can’t beat the heat in Orlando this time of year, and I’m not just talking about the temps. SEPC’s Southern Exposure is always the hottest produce gathering to kick off the calendar year of trade shows,” shared Mary Heslep, Senior Vice President, Food, of Ten Acre Marketing. “The Ten Acre Marketing team loves this show for the variety of companies across the supply chain that we get to interact with. The networking opportunities we’re able to facilitate between our clients and industry friends are innumerable.”
It was certainly a significant event to check off the produce calendar, and I am looking forward to seeing the ideas, relationships, and experiences forged or inspired at this show blossom over the coming months.
“The only way I can describe the conference is ‘out of this world!’ It exceeded our highest expectations and goals,” David Sherrod, SEPC’s President and Chief Executive Officer, confirmed. “I want to thank our sponsors, buyers, exhibitors, and guests for their support and help in cultivating the future of produce. I also want to thank our staff, Board of Directors and Board of Governors for all the hard work and preparation in making this event such a success.”
In that spirit, a heartfelt congratulations also goes out to those who shined in the interactive contests and SEPC spotlight...
Awards of Achievement
- Posthumous Terry Vorhees Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient: Al Finch
- SEPC Lifetime Membership Award Recipients: Mark Hilton and Teri Miller
2023 Tom Page Golf Classic First-place Winners
- Palm course: Joe Acosta of Moonlight Sales Corp., Nicole Hulstein of Food Lion, Nathan Stornetta of Produce Careers Inc., and Stephen Cowan of Mucci Farms
- Magnolia course: Charles Alter of Sunview Marketing, Aaron Miller of Booth Ranches LLC, Mitch Mitchell of International Paper, and Jake Davis of Florida Specialties.
Costume Contest Winner
- Leslie Simmons of Fair Trade USA
Booth Decorating Contest Winners
- 1st Place: Hillcrest Produce Company/Oso Sweet
- 2nd Place: I Love Produce
- 3rd Place: Idaho Potato Commission
Best Themed Directory Ad
- 1st Place: Idaho Potato Commission (p.29)
- 2nd Place: Hillcrest Produce Company/Oso Sweet (p. 36)
- 3rd Place: Jim Rash (p. 77)
As for the next Southern Exposure, SEPC will be taking a break from Orlando as it moves the event to Tampa for 2024, offering potential for even more amazing shake-ups to come for this industry staple.