SEPC Southern Exposure 2021: Taking a Beat with Harold Paivarinta
ORLANDO, FL - I may have returned from the 2021 Southeast Produce Council's (SEPC) Southern Exposure weeks ago, but the event still remains a constant topic in the conversations of many here in the fresh produce industry. With its hybrid in-person and virtual format, there was an element for everyone and a way for those to connect and stay connected both near and far. While at Southern Exposure, I was able to share a virtual handshake with Harold Paivarinta, Chairman of the Board, Southeast Produce Council, and Senior Director of Sales and Business Development, Red Sun Farms, who dished on the SEPC experience, Virtual Garden, and more.
With the challenges, solutions, and learning experiences of 2020, SEPC understood that the council had to learn from the events of the recent year, and, in Harold’s words, everybody has had to pivot and adapt. Luckily for SEPC, the council also has one (of many) quality that is arguably one of its biggest strengths and allowed the event to succeed in value and connection.
“Everybody says our show is like a family reunion, right?” Harold asked and smiled. He knows the answer and that I do too. “This is probably the most intimate, personal show in the industry. Although you can never duplicate that in a virtual or a hybrid format, I think this is the next best thing. When it comes to the overall approach to shows, it's really made everybody aware of how important the connections are, because, at the end of the day, it's an execution business—but it's also a heavy relationship business. Not being able to reach out there and make those connections has been tough.”
When I asked Harold how the show interaction and feedback had been, he launched into an energetic conversation with me about the physical and digital turnout.
“The feedback has been excellent—being able to live stream the workshops, the keynote, and the evenings’ entertainment was excellent as well,” Harold shared, adding that—along with the positive feedback from vendors and retailers, and judging by some of the numbers that he was observing in the sessions and in the keynote—many found value and discovered benefits from both the physical and virtual attendance.
The Virtual Garden—an interactive platform—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.
“The numbers have been phenomenal,” Harold expressed.
In addition, the sheer amount of activity that SEPC had in the chat rooms and in the Q&As was a testament to the level of energy and engagement across the show as well, Harold shared.
“When it came to navigating the Virtual Garden, it was very user-friendly, and is very simple,” Harold added, noting that many attendees shared that the garden was a lot easier than some of the other virtual formats they’ve engaged with in the past. “Even the video chat capabilities that we implemented into this have been incredibly beneficial.”
SEPC is already looking to Southern Innovations September 9–11 in Savannah, Georgia, but will be implementing and using the SEPC Virtual Garden all year long to offer more value, updates, networking, innovation, community, education, and information at a higher frequency during this new normal.
And, don’t forget, you can still check out the Virtual Garden and view recordings of SEPC Southern Exposure 2021 sessions, the keynote, and more!
It is so nice to be boots on the ground again, and I look forward to seeing you all very soon!