Southeast Produce Council's Southern Exposure 2018: the Highlights, Awards, and Events
TAMPA, FL - Some of fresh produce's biggest names convened in Tampa this weekend to sample products, network, and enjoy the beautiful weather at Southern Exposure 2018. With this year's fanciful Where Produce is King theme and the show's perennially intimate atmosphere and ideal buyer-to-supplier ratio, Southern Exposure offered retail buyers and companies throughout the supply chain an unrivalled chance to grow their business and celebrate our industry—all while luxuriating in the Florida sun.
This year’s Southern Exposure brought together over 2,400 attendees, 270 exhibitors, and over 450 retail and foodservice attendees.
"The Southeast Produce Council's Southern Exposure is a dynamic event that attendees look forward to year after year due to the quality of activities provided for our members," said David Sherrod, President and CEO of SEPC. "The SEPC has worked very hard this year, and every year, to increase the quality of our conference while still maintaining the intimacy that sets us apart, allowing our members to make meaningful connections within our four pillars: Networking, Innovation, Community, and Education."
"We get better and better every year," Faye Westfall, Chairman of the Board for the SEPC and Sales Manager for DiMare Fresh, told me when I asked her about the success of the Council's 2018 show. "I think this was the best Southern Exposure yet. We've really raised the bar. And it's going to be more difficult to top ourselves next year, but I think we can do it."
The three-day event boasted a number of chances to interact with buyers, sellers, shippers, marketers, and more; learn What's Shakin' in the produce industry, and grow those personal and professional relationships that are the backbone of our industry.
"SEPC's Southern Exposure provides every opportunity to connect with those in our industry in a way that fosters real conversations and allows those in our industry to build relationships. On top of that, the show is relevant to current issues and informative—just a look at the quality and quantity of educational sessions will tell you that much," noted Teri Miller, Senior Category Manager, The Fresh Market and former SEPC Chair. "The expo incorporates fun into every aspect. If I'm having fun, I'm apt to have a more meaningful interaction with my partners."
Additionally, Mike Roberts, Director of Produce Operations for Harps Food Stores Inc. and also a member of the Board of Directors, shared a few words with me about the impact of the event for him.
“I think what brings people back to the SEPC is the atmosphere, it’s like a close knit family,” Mike told me. “The ease at which you can visit with every aspect of the produce industry, with existing partners or new ones is a great benefit if the conference.”
From the Golf Breakfast and Tom Page Golf Classic Thursday morning through the Opening Gala Friday evening through the Expo, general sessions, and Closing Reception Saturday night, the show offered every opportunity to learn, laugh, build your business, and engage in some friendly competition with our produce peers.
"I look forward to the SEPC every year as it allows us to reconnect with suppliers early in the year and in time for Spring and Summer planning," Chris Keetch, Director, Produce & Floral for GIANT Food Stores, LLC, shares with me. "As if Florida in early March isn't enough of a draw, the logistics around the multiple days of activities offer easy access for those who attend every part of the event or are just in and out for the trade show itself."
Big winners at this year's expo had attendees cheering and on their feet and included:
Booth Contest Winners
- 1st place: Mucci Farms
- 2nd place: Dave's Specialty Imports, Inc.
- 3rd place: Reichel Foods
- 1st place: Andrew Scott of Nickey Gregory
- 2nd place: Shuman Produce
- 3rd place: Leslie Simmons of Dave's Specialty Imports, Inc.
Winning Golf Team:
- Michael Jenks of Reed TMS
- John Miller
- Jesse Lopez
- Jim Gabrorski of Well Pict Berries
An impressive who's-who of guest speakers spoke throughout the conference, starting with Dan'l Mackey Almy, President and CEO of DMA Solutions–who kicked off Friday's STARS Breakfast.
Presentations and educational sessions continued throughout Friday–with informative sessions including a set of Fresh from the Farm Field Trips where attendees could virtually tour the farms of B&W Quality Growers, Florida Classic Growers, Nickey Gregory Company, LLC., and Robinson Fresh; a panel discussion of FMI's Power of Produce featuring Kroger's Randy Riley, HelloFresh's Jacob Krempel, and Giant/Martins' John Ruane; and a Connecting the Dots: Traceability & Transparency Through Blockchain Technology panel with speakers from throughout the supply chain including Brendan Solan of Driscoll's, Brigid McDermott from IBM, Frank Yiannas of Walmart, and Melanie Nuce of GS1.
"Education is one of the SEPC's pillars so we continue to invest significant energy and resources to provide a robust program that adds value to our membership," said Harold Paivarinta, Senior Director of Sales and Business Development for Red Sun Farms and SEPC's Education Committee Chair. "This was our inaugural presentation of the Power of Produce, SEPC's partnership with FMI. The session was standing room only and featured insights from panelists from Ahold, Hello Fresh, Kroger, and more."
Another new addition to Southern Exposure's educational program was the Learning, Interaction, & Networking with Key Players in the Supply Chain or LINKS Summit–a platform developed to connect SEPC's grower/shipper members with those from retail and foodservice. Designed to create a non-competitive environment to facilitate exchange of ideas, learning, interaction, networking, and enhanced understanding of the retail supply chain, the LINKS Summit strives to help members better service consumers and drive consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables in the Southeast.
"All the retailer needs to do is create a guest list from our Southern Exposure exhibitor roster and create their presentations. The Council takes care of everything else," Harold explained. "Feedback from the retailers who took part in the first LINKS program was overwhelming positive. In fact, some have enquired about the possibility of making it an annual event for their companies at Southern Exposure."
Saturday's activities commenced with a General Session and Keynote Luncheon-at which John Mackey, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, shared his insights into our industry. Mackey discussed the recent merger between Amazon and Whole Foods, the future of organic produce, his own plant-based diet, and more.
"I just think the things that [Amazon and Whole Foods] can do together are amazing-things that I can't really talk about," Mackey joked during a discussion with CNN Business Correspondent Alison Kosik. "The joke is: 'I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you.' In this case, I could tell you, but then Amazon would kill me."
Mackey did discuss a number of important developments slated to roll out in 2018-including the implementation of Amazon Prime's rewards programs at Whole Foods locations, a cash-back credit card program with Amazon, and an initiative to make Whole Foods completely transparent with regards to GMO ingredients.
"We're a pretty big company, but we don't try to sell our food to absolutely everyone. We're selling the highest quality food in the entire world, we believe—the produce we can find…the best of everything…We don't necessarily want to be like everybody else; we want to be the best," Mackey said, likening Whole Foods to luxury cars with a devoted customer base. "We're a mission driven company. We're simply trying to fulfill our mission: to provide the highest-quality natural and organic foods in the world. And it's worked really well for us."
The keynote luncheon also awarded its 2018 Terry Vorhees Lifetime Achievement Award to David Stornetta, Founder of Produce Careers. "My first reaction—it wasn't a smile. It was very humbling," Stornetta told the audience.
Afterwards it was on to the Expo. The daylong show-floor experience boasted an impressive number of buyers from major regional, national, and international retailers and foodservice providers. Buyers and suppliers alike seemed pleased with the convivial atmosphere and quality of the show.
"Once again Southern Exposure provided three days filled with education, entertainment, and networking that exceeded expectations and will be providing benefits that will be useful the remainder of the year!" said Frank Swanson, Category Manager–Fresh Produce, US Foods.
While the expo may be over and its attendees scattered, the camaraderie and the bonds built at this year's Southern Exposure will undoubtedly continue to be felt by all who attended. Stick with AndNowUKnow for more SEPC coverage throughout the week.