Southern Innovations Recap: Teri Miller, Mike Roberts, Raina Nelson, and Frank Swanson Comment
SAVANNAH, GA - The Southeast Produce Council (SEPC) Southern Innovations trade show has always felt much more like a celebration to me—a celebration of regional ingenuity, diverse opportunities, and the kind of camaraderie and hospitality that is unique to the SEPC team and its association. Each event holds a firm foothold on our editorial calendars and with it, the chance to reunite with a firm handshake or even firmer hug. This year, the excitement in the lead-up to Southern Innovations had been contagious—and that enthusiasm transcended our impression of the event and radiated with abundance from the faces of attendees at the Savannah Convention Center September 9-11, 2021.
Enhanced by the backdrop of a beautiful Georgia sunset this year, I could not have felt more recharged, at home, and inspired to reconnect with familiar faces and meet a host of new friends as we united to push fresh produce to the forefront of the consumer basket and wallet. And as Raina Nelson, Vice Chairman of SEPC’s Executive Board and President of USA Operations, Westfalia Fruit, tells me, the anticipation was well worth the wait.
“Southern Innovations was a pivotal event for the industry and it was the perfect platform to gather together and look towards the future; a bright future filled with innovation,” Raina shared. “This conference has evolved to boast all things innovation. Innovation can mean so many things to so many people so we designed and debuted our What’s New? format that clearly features four categories of innovation. No matter what innovation means to you, you’ll be sure to find what’s new on the farm, what’s new for the shelf, what’s new on the plate, and what’s new for the planet.”
Raina also highly recommended visiting the SEPC’s Virtual Garden to access the educational sessions.
“The show floor was safely designed to allow ample space for attendees and exhibitors to do business and showcase innovative products and services. In speaking with many exhibitors, the buyer presence was conveyed as top-notch quality despite the limited travel environment,” she added. “It was also a weekend full of tradition. Savannah was a wonderful host city and we are already looking forward to returning to Nashville in September 2022!”
As is customary of the SEPC family, the association cultivated a range of events for industry members of all ages, tenures, and backgrounds from the Board of Directors and STEP-UPP dinner on Wednesday evening to the Southern Roots Luncheon on Thursday afternoon.
As I sat in a room filled with Southern Roots industry members, with backgrounds far and wide—from our Managing Editor Melissa De Leon Chavez and Yerecic Label’s Kristin Yerecic Scott to industry veterans like Jason’s Deli’s Kim Andreason and The Fresh Market’s Teri Miller—I could not help but feel the deep connectivity of such moments as we opened our minds to a presentation on the power of empathy. But, I think Teri said it best.
“The Southern Roots Luncheon was a great setting that gave us all a break from the world issues that surround us. Greeting dear friends with hugs and making new ones was just what we needed,” Teri, Senior Category Manager for the retailer, shared. “The speaker, Carrie Grace, reminded us how to treat and lift up one another. I needed to hear that as we somehow forgot it! Thank you to the Southern Roots Committee and SEPC team for making great things happen.”
I second that thank you.
Carrie—a former teacher turned motivational speaker—shared the personal stories that fed her desire to dig into compassion practices and insights. This drive then led her to discover and share ways to help others fill their wells so that they could give empathy and kindness to others. It was the perfect segue to the event that followed on Thursday evening.
With the kick-off of the Southern Innovations ramping up, the Welcoming Reception was just that—welcoming—and truly felt like a celebration of open arms. Laughter, networking, and southern comfort food filled the evening and primed attendees for the energy of Friday’s education sessions, keynote, and, of course, trade show floor.
Friday morning launched attendees into the day bright and early, inspiring Southern Innovations’ most passionate with educational sessions like “Recruiting and Retaining a Multi-Generational Workforce.” In addition, “What's New?: Trends and Innovation” showcased statistics and insights from 210 Analytics on the growth of produce and the opportunities still left to be tapped—and there are plenty. From sustainability driving buying decisions to robot stalkers and the need for deeper storytelling, the occasions are ripe for consumption and sales growth. For the swath of incredible insights from 210, please check out this recent recap.
Attendees then entered the keynote luncheon flush with pecan pie and produce, as well as awards and honors that showcased the association’s up and coming members and most impactful. David Butler, Chief Growth Officer for Kids2, and former Vice President of Innovation and Entrepreneurship for The Coca-Cola Company then took to the stage to discuss “Disruptive Innovation: How Can Any Company Learn How to Innovate Like a "Tech" Company?” In his presentation, David discussed the qualities required to innovate and execute with an emphasis on a flexible mindset and building tangible strategies into a progressive vision.
After the morning of thought-provoking discussions, guests headed to the trade show floor which brought an intimate 600-plus attendees together with 93 exhibitors.
With all that the SEPC team had accomplished in mind, Mike Roberts, Director of Produce Operations, Harps Food Stores, took a beat to share his reflections with me as the show wound down.
“Southern Innovations 2021 was a great reconnection of produce industry professionals with a family reunion type atmosphere this year!" he said. "There were excellent educational sessions and keynote luncheon, followed by a great expo. The world's largest tailgate party was a great time and great way to wrap up another amazing SEPC event!”
Stay tuned for more testimonials from some of our friends! Now, on with the recap!
If the trade show floor was not enough, a Chairman’s Dinner Dance wrapped the Friday festivities and put the cherry on the fresh produce pie—especially when Frank Swanson accepted the SEPC Lifetime Membership Award just 90 minutes after retiring from US Foods. Yes, you read that right!
“It’s you who grow, everybody out in your field to harvesting the product so we have it 365 days out of the year, the people that work in the warehouse, the people that drive all the trucks, the people who inspect the product—it’s amazing and humbling to think about getting an award, and without everybody in this room I can’t do anything,” Frank shared with the crowd.
In addition, SEPC recognized Lifetime Membership recipient Steve Pinkston at the Chairmen’s Dinner Dance. SEPC retiring Board Members were also honored for their contributions during the trade show, so please share a round of applause from your screens for Blair Greenhill, Jon Schwalls, and Harold Paivarinta as well.
Saturday and Sunday concluded with the Founders Memorial Golf Tournament, Sporting Clays Tournament, Local Tour, Ultimate Tailgate Experience, and SEPC Prayer Breakfast.
With in-person events still remaining in flux, moments like these and events like SEPC Southern Innovations truly highlight the fact that we are not just a produce business, we are a people business.
A huge thank you to the SEPC team for having us out to the show! We hope to see you all soon.