Inside the 2016 Southern Innovations Symposium
WILLIAMSBURG, VA – Filled to brim with new ideas and strengthened relationships, the Southeast Produce Council (SEPC) held its latest installation of the Southern Innovations Symposium this past weekend against the luscious and historic backdrop of the Virginia coast.
From industry veterans to budding new members like myself, I heard many reasons why companies throughout the industry keep this SEPC event on their radar, but one was particularly resounding; Southern Innovations provides a unique platform of intimacy and connectivity that is highly valued in such a teeming industry.
As SEPC Executive Director David Sherrod said himself during the Keynote Luncheon, these opportunities are even more pronounced by the viability of the organization, and the visibility the event and SEPC at large is gaining in the industry. This year's event saw a record number in attendance, with 317 members registered for the weekend.
"We are very pleased with the participation and attendance at the second Bright Ideas Platform. The exhibitors and attendees were really engaged in conversation and the interest levels were very high in the new items on display. We look forward to building upon the success of the Bright Ideas Platform going forward and making it a destination for launching new products for our industry," David Sherrod, SEPC Executive Director, told me of the event.
Even further to the group’s delight, eminent figure within the industry, and newly announced Senior Category Manager for Produce at The Fresh Market, Teri Miller, was unveiled as SEPC’s newest President. Naming produce as her “home,” with an outlook to further bolster the industry which encompasses so many she holds dearly, Southern Innovations was on its feet in applause as we all recognized the drive and passion that Teri will bring to SEPC; and with excitement over where she will help to bring it next.
From the SEPC’s focused agenda to the varied networking opportunities available, there was an ongoing atmosphere of understanding and mutual passion for the industry that marked each moment of the event. The serene environment of Southern Innovations also ensured that relationships shaped within the event are sure to endure and flourish as adorations and desires over our industry were shared and understood between each attendee.
"The intimacy SEPC events provide is very valuable for our company. The friends and business relationships forged here go beyond a show or conference," asserted Brian Cook, Vice President of Sales at Hollandia Produce, as we discussed our favorite parts of the event.
Kicking off on Thursday afternoon with the Southern Roots Networking Event, led by Executive Business Coach Julie Holunga, Southern Innovations offered women from every corner of the industry a centered space to relate and combine their experiences. From examining how to further fortify their strengths, and learning how areas of improvement can be just as valued, the joined support and honest analysis left a treasured encounter that had all of us strategizing how to enhance not only our work lives, but our identities as women in produce.
"The Southeast Produce Council never fails to put on an incredible event. This has always been a wonderful way to network and spend time with customers and colleagues in a relaxed setting, but the SEPC continues to raise the bar. The Southern Roots luncheon, relevant key note speakers, and the Bright Ideas showcase really enhanced the experience for me," Leslie Simmons, Vice President of Dave’s Specialty Imports, told me as we compared experiences.
This vein of uplifting yourself in the industry, while also uplifting those around you, continued strongly throughout the rest of the weekend. Making for a relaxing few days where produce members could not only reconnect with one another or make new friends, but also understand the visceral aspects to each company that makes each one so dedicated to its services and mission.
Futurist Richard Worzel opened up Friday’s activities with an educational workshop that fixated attendees on thinking ahead, and embracing innovation as a means to gain a competitive edge. Richard presented technology, robotics, greenhouse advancements, and the focus of health in food as markers to consider as approaching shifts for the produce industry.
From there, Keynote Speaker Chris Fussell outlined how produce members can utilize empowerment and decentralized leadership constructs to take their companies even further into success, and adapt even better to changing organizations and world concepts.
Attendees then flooded to the Bright Ideas Platform which offered retailers and produce members a chance to glimpse the newest offerings of each presenting company, with tranquil surroundings which allowed each attendee a prolonged, and unconventional, opportunity to hear the story behind each product, why each product is a valued extension of the company, and where each brand is headed next.
From the tasteful selections of SUNSET®’s Tomato of Yore™ or the delicious crop yielded by Domex Superfresh Growers, to other innovations like Mucci Farms’ Veggies-To-Go and Yerecic Label’s FlagTag! offerings, there was more than enough proof as to how this industry is able to consistently challenge itself and deliver on lasting innovations.
Between dashes of U.S. history, empowering guest speakers, the Bright Ideas Platform, and other networking opportunities–the formal President’s Dinner Dance the foremost in my mind–Southern Innovations was truly a weekend to remember.
SEPC is already ramping up for its next events as well, announcing during Southern Innovations that Southern Exposure 2017 will be held from March 9-11 in Orlando, FL, with the theme Magic of Produce. Even more alluring however, was the disclosure of the Keynote Speaker that had attendees buzzing, renowned NFL and MLB athlete Tim Tebow.
Looking to attend the Southern Innovations Symposium yourself? Catch the next installment September 28-30, 2017, in Hilton Head, South Carolina.