It's A Wrap! The Southeast Produce Council's Southern Exposure: The Rise of Produce Hits the High Marks

It's A Wrap! The Southeast Produce Council's Southern Exposure: The Rise of Produce Hits the High Marks

ORLANDO, FL & THE VIRTUAL UNIVERSE - When I stepped into the Swan and Dolphin Resort, the excitement was palpable. The energy felt dynamic and electric. It was like returning home—home to a space we cherish now more than ever and one we have all dreamt of occupying this past year: trade shows. As we were welcomed into Southeast Produce Council’s (SEPC) Southern Exposure trade show, the anticipation that we have felt in these recent months settled into gratitude.

David Sherrod, President and Chief Executive Officer, Southeast Produce Council“We thought this year’s Southern Exposure was a wonderful success despite all of the obstacles we’ve faced through the COVID-19 pandemic. We knew it was going to take some time to recoup pre-pandemic attendance numbers, and we could not be more pleased with the participation and support of our members,” David Sherrod, President and Chief Executive Officer, Southeast Produce Council, stated. “We were able to provide a hybrid show experience to our retail and foodservice members who chose to participate, giving them the opportunity to network from any location with our 275 exhibitors/level sponsors.”

Each of the exhibitors participated within the SEPC Virtual Garden, even though, due to travel restrictions, some were unable to exhibit in Orlando.

“There were 403 self-registered buyers for Southern Exposure, including both onsite in Orlando and within the SEPC Virtual Garden. Despite all of those who were unable to attend, we were still able to provide an outstanding buyer-to-seller ratio,” David added.

David Sherrod, President and Chief Executive Officer of Southeast Produce Council, dressed for the part for The Rise of Produce (featuring Harold Paivarinta of Red Sun Farms as Darth Vader)

Themed The Rise of Produce, this 2021 trade show was designed to “restore unity to the produce galaxy” during a time when I believe we all have needed it most and are ready to reconnect, increase our value, and impact the consumer in innovative and diverse ways.

The show hosted a sold-out exhibitor space as well as attendance from over 1,500 industry members. In addition, SEPC’s Virtual Garden—the virtual interactive platform David referred to—allowed buyers and all those in attendance the opportunity to engage with the material and correspond in real-time with onsite exhibitors, sessions, events, and more.

For those who could not attend, Southeast Produce Council provided a virtual platform for exhibitors and buyers titled the Virtual Garden

With Star Wars as the thematic backdrop, we all donned our masks—be you Jedi or Storm Trooper—and converged on the fresh produce itinerary, which launched April 5 and 6 and ran through the SEPC Prayer Breakfast on the 9.

Mike Roberts, Director of Produce Operations, Harps Food Stores“Getting to reconnect with friends and colleagues was amazing! It has been too long since we were all together. It may not have been the biggest SEPC ever but it’s one I will never forget,” Mike Roberts, Director of Produce Operations, Harps Food Stores and SEPC Executive Board Treasurer, shared with me. “The educational sessions were awesome, the expo was great, and all of the social distancing practices in place! It was a great and safe show!”

In order to get into the swing of things on the ground, Southern Exposure kicked off the week with a VIP Dinner on Monday 5, followed by a host of festivities including the Tom Page Golf Classic and STARS and STEP-UPP Dinner.

This year’s Tom Page Golf Classic Winners (two courses at Reunion Resort Golf Courses) were:

1st Place

  • Aaron Miller, Howard Litaker, Bill Pollard, Mr. Burch
  • Jeff Weaver, Ray England, Michael Bader, John Williams

2nd Place

  • Raul Alfonso, Derin Benson
  • Kevin Stanger, Dave Barton, Joe Esta

3rd Place

  • Jamey Higham, Andy Hamilton, Dave Yeager, Mike Jenks
  • Wayne Szabla, Chris Elsie, Meagan Morgan, Austin Mackey

The STEP-UPP class gathering in-person to celebrate, one of the many festivities put on during SEPC's Southern Exposure

As the week gained momentum, the STARS Breakfast energized the crowd with speakers Megan Zweig, Vice President of DMA Solutions, and Wendy McManus of Connect 2 Potential, who brought soulful insights to eager and hungry industry minds as the organization seeks to inform and advance the careers and paths of the next generation of produce professionals.

The incredible Southern Roots Luncheon also had the women in our produce industry on the edge of their seats (and on their feet) as Sarah Frey, CEO and Founder of Frey Farms, and author of the book The Growing Season, shared her story and wisdom. As Teri Miller, Senior Category Manager, The Fresh Market told me, this was one event for the ages.

Teri Miller, Senior Category Manager, The Fresh Market“Sarah Frey was OUTSTANDING. She was real, inspiring, and hilarious. I expect this particular session will be talked about for some time,” Teri shared. “The show was therapeutic for me. It warmed my heart to see the faces I’d missed so much, bump elbows with friends, shake hands, or even bear hug. This show continues to encourage conversations that are exploratory and at times opposing. Which is how it should be.”

As SEPC always offers food for thought and business, a plethora of educational seminars brought attendees together along with events like STARS Cocktails and Careers, Produce for Kids, the Retail and Foodservice Reception, and of course the Opening Gala.

To get attendees primed for an exhibitor floor on Thursday afternoon, SEPC hosted a keynote luncheon that was both emotionally charged with authentic connection and appreciation and an opportunity for heartfelt laughter, tears, and awards. Among those many honors presented was the SEPC Lifetime Membership Award presented to Bobby Creel of L&M Companies.

The Terry Vorhees Lifetime Achievement Award, which was posthumous, was given to Martin Eubanks of South Carolina Department of Agriculture, whose family received the award on his behalf.

I think Emily Murracas said it best during a keynote breakfast video greeting: “Tough times make tough people.”

And tough, strong, and resilient we are!

Hungry for interaction, buyers and suppliers alike took to the Southeast Produce Council's Southern Exposure floor

Duncan Wardle, Founder of iD8 & innov8 and former Head of Innovation and Creativity at Disney, echoed that sentiment and took to the stage on Thursday as one of the event’s keynote presenters. Wardle presented innovation tools, ideas, and creative behaviors to give the audience the permission to think differently and address the consumer experience with a deeper vision and strategy.

With the wrap of the keynote and the opening of the exposition hall, industry members were able to truly settle into the fact that we were all finally boots on the ground. Stepping foot on the show floor flooded me with a wash of nostalgia and possibility, and the Star Wars-themed extravaganza was present in even the smallest of details and some of our favorite booths.

Check out some of the award honorees of Southern Exposure 2021:

Booth Decorating Contest Winners

  • 1st: LUV by Fresh Directions Intl.
  • 2nd: Idaho Potato Commission
  • 3rd: Dave’s Specialty Imports, Inc.

Click Connection Challenge Winners

  • 1st: Kari Cordero (Lowes Foods)
  • 2nd: Adam Brady (Shuman Farms)
  • 3rd: Mattie Fisher (John Green Logistics)

Southern Exposure Best Themed Directory Ad

  • 1st: WP Produce
  • 2nd: Titan Farms

When it came to the coveted Gala Costume Contest Winners, I truly enjoyed David’s response.

“There was awesome participation by our member company families. So many children joined us in costume to celebrate The Rise of Produce. They were all winners,” he expressed.

Anna Burch, Southeast Produce Council's Marketing Manager, poses with other Star Wars aficionados

The Dolphin Grotto and Beach Area hosted the closing party, while those that wanted to extend the show a day longer and soak up the occasion even more attended the SEPC Prayer Breakfast on Friday morning to share their gratitude, camaraderie, and undying support for the industry in which we all work and thrive.

A huge thank you to the Southeast Produce Council team and all those who came out. Whether we air-hugged from six feet away or wrapped each other in big bear hugs, it was an event not to be missed, and we have truly missed all of you!

Southeast Produce Council

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Southeast Produce Council

The Southeast Produce Council (SEPC) is a member-driven, non-profit association of more than 2,500 leaders from all…