Southern Exposure 2019 Highlights: Celebrating 20 Years and Partying Like It's 1999
ORLANDO, FL - I am a creature of habit, and one of my absolute favorite ways to begin each year and the trade show circuit is with the Southeast Produce Council (SEPC) Southern Exposure extravaganza. This year’s theme? Well, a celebration of course, as SEPC commemorates its 20th anniversary with “Produce like it’s 1999.” An event that remains close to my heart, Southern Exposure brings the best of our industry under one roof to talk shop about produce excellence, the challenges and opportunities of today, and the direction our best efforts can take us as we look to excel on the national and global stage.
To give a break down of the event by the numbers, SEPC President and CEO David Sherrod joins me as he finally comes up for air from the whirlwind event that took place March 7 – 9, 2019 at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort in Orlando, Florida.
- 273 Booths
- Over 2,500 Attendees
- Over 500 Buyers
- 2 Gators
- 4 Great Education Sessions
- 14 STAR Students
- 12 Step-UPP Participants
“Each year, the tremendous turnout at Southern Exposure really amazes me as well as the wonderful responses we get from our attendees. We know we are giving our attendees what they want when they actually say that our only problem is that they have too many customers attending!” David says and laughs. “It is a testament to the dedication of our membership, staff, and board that makes this event the success it has become. We have truly been blessed over the past 20 years, and we hope and pray it will continue to flourish every year.”
In addition, David adds that the association introduced its new Southern Exposure USA community to expo attendees which highlights the farms, communities, and people we all depend on to grow, sell, and buy the wonderful products.
“We also featured our SEPC University area that housed our Bright Ideas New Arrivals and brand new Innovation Stations. Both were received with great reviews and praise,” David adds. “We also want to thank our retail, foodservice, and wholesale attendees for their commitment and support to SEPC.”
Stephanie Hilton, Marketing & Business Development at Tom Lange Company and a member of the Board of Directors for SEPC also shares her impression of the event.
“SEPC’s value is truly immeasurable,” she says. “The multiple platforms the event provides give everyone the ability to interact with both industry peers and customers in a warm and friendly atmosphere. I am grateful and proud to be a part of this organization.”
Themed “Produce like it’s 1999,” the opening reception brought excitement to attendees including a band featuring Prince cover songs, a costume contest, and BMX riders who brought David Sherrod himself into their fold—or rather, under it—as a high-flying cyclist jumped over David's head at the event's innagural ceremony.
Speaking of more of those exciting elements of this year’s show—the educational sessions, luncheons, and keynotes were events to be rivaled. The activities spanned from The Tom Page Golf Classic to STARS and STEP-UPP events. Also on the list were The Healing Benefits of Produce as well as The Power of Produce to the Southern Roots Luncheon and Food Safety Continuing Connection Session where Wegman’s Dave Corsi and Food Safety expert Trevor Suslow discussed the current and emerging funded research for The Center for Produce Safety while addressing food safety issues that have been top of mind this past year.
DMA Solutions President and CEO Dan’l Mackey Almy spoke at the STARS Breakfast and welcomed a class of fresh produce participants who will help shine a brighter light on what we do and will make a difference in how we do it.
"We inherently have what all big food companies want: healthy, fresh solutions to the world’s demands and challenges. What we need to do is tell a better story. I go to bed every night knowing we market something that has grown out of the ground, and the work that we do every day is always for the greater good,” Dan’l shares with us.
Dan’l also noted that the fresh produce industry's economic impact is over 500 billion dollars annually and that fresh produce consistently ranks among the top most profitable and largest growing departments at retail and in foodservice.
Also bringing his experience with SEPC is Dave Corsi, Vice President of Produce and Floral for Wegmans Food Markets, as well as The Center for Produce Safety's Board Chair, who shares some of his thoughts with us as we spoke about today’s issues and how the industry is part of the solution.
"There are many values to express but let me convey two. The first is the intimate setting, allowing for multiple networking opportunities at Southern Exposure. The size and setting are manageable, making it easy to navigate around the exhibit, having quality time to talk with our partners, and then provide exposure to others," Dave Corsi, tells me. "The second value is in allowing an educational opportunity to talk about The Center for Produce Safety. The center, to me, is an advocate for prevention efforts. Our industry has been critically wounded by FDA Advisories. If we don’t apply our learning from applicable food safety science, then our industry will continue to be vulnerable to future outbreaks. CPS provides the platform to learn more about harmful pathogens not only growing in the environment but in other parts of the supply chain."
Dave adds that the transference of these pathogens is the target.
"If we can supply more science to understand where these bad bugs live and grow, we can apply best practices to limit the contamination. These are key preventative measures, which are necessary for reducing outbreaks. That’s where Wegmans wants to be, on the path of prevention," he says.
While many of the topics were serious and always impactful in nature, Southern Exposure also looked to celebrate the event with awards, honors, and more! Here are a handful of what was presented:
- Booth Contests Winners:
- 1st Place: Dave's Specialty Imports
- 2nd Place: Good Foods Group
- Third Place: 3rd Place: Mucci Farms and the National Watermelon Board
- Costume Contest:
- 1st Place: Reichel Foods: Michael Adams and Leisa Zanders
- 2nd Place: DiMare Fresh
- 3rd Place: Andrew Scott and Nickey Gregory
- Tom Page Gold Classic Winning Team:
- 1st Place: The Palm Course: Bill Pollard, Howard Loralee, Aaron Miller, and Steve Burch
- 1st Place: The Magnolia Course: Dave Yeager, Walter Vaughn, Kenneth Todd, and Derek Ennis
- 2019 Vorhees Vision Scholarship recipient:
- John Mocettini, son of Paul and Karen Mocettini, Muzzi Family Farms
Mike Roberts, Director of Produce Operations at Harps Food Stores and a member of the Board of Directors for SEPC says it perfectly.
“The atmosphere at SEPC Southern Exposure is unmatched in the industry,” he shares. “The ease of networking, educational seminars, and programs that give back to, and invest in, the produce industry are just some of the top things I love about SEPC as a whole and the events in which they provide to engage us all.”
Food Lion's Fruit Category Manager Nicole Hulstein added, “The Southeast Produce Council puts on an extraordinary event. The value delivered via the educational sessions and Southern Roots alone would be worth the trip! The atmosphere to create connections generating dialogue and idea sharing provides the maximum returns for both grower/shippers and retailers alike. My only regret is that time didn’t stretch enough to have more of those conversations!”
SEPC's Southern Exposure may be in the books, but we will continue to bring you coverage of the action-packed event throughout the week.