Raina Nelson, Kristen Yerecic Scott, and More Share Their Thoughts on Southern Innovations 2022

Raina Nelson, Kristen Yerecic Scott, and More Share Their Thoughts on Southern Innovations 2022


NASHVILLE, TN - After a whirlwind of empowerment, education, experience, and connection, it’s a wrap for the 2022 Southern Innovations.

My Southern Innovations experience kicked off on the water with 200 women in produce—a promising start for the show set to break previous records.

And break them it did. Not only was the women-forward Southern Roots event—led by Dan'l Mackey Almy, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of DMA Solutions, Inc. and Co-Host of the Self Smarter Podcast, and Megan Zweig, President of DMA Solutions, and Co-Host of the Self Smarter Podcast—a smashing success, but so too was the Welcome Reception receiving attendees at the aptly named Water’s Edge in the renowned Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Resort of Nashville, Tennessee.

It is worth noting that nearly all of the more than 1,100-plus who registered were in the final attendance, more than 200 of which were from the retail and foodservice sectors of our industry.

David Sherrod, President and Chief Executive Officer, Southeast Produce Council“We couldn’t have asked for anything better than what we are seeing here, the innovation platform has taken off,” David Sherrod, President and Chief Executive Officer of host association the Southeast Produce Council (SEPC) shared with me. “We are trying to do something different from other show experiences out there and really lean into innovations and education. Our educational sessions were packed, which speaks to the direction we are headed in the next few years, and we are excited to see where we go from here.”

It is understandable why there was such a positive turnout not just to the show floor but the morning sessions. Called upon to pivot quickly due to unforeseen circumstances, the minds behind Southern Innovations walked the walk.

Industry members gathered on the show floor for an event jam-packed with innovative insights and interactions

Instead of a given session, we all had interactive conversations pertaining to some of the most dynamic topics in our industry.

Kristin Yerecic Scott, Conference Chairman, Southeast Produce Council“Unfortunately, our speaker Laura Juarez, Founder/Partner of 10X Leadership Lab, was hospitalized. So, we were faced with a choice to cancel the session or to innovate, which is what this show is all about—so we decided to pivot to something attendees would benefit from,” Kristin Yerecic Scott, SEPC Conference Chairman, told me. “Something I love about being Education Chair is having access to other conferences, so I had seen something at other packaging industries that would work with our circular setup, and I leaned into that idea while our committee came together to generate topics that would reach everyone inclusively.”

It truly was a representation of innovation at work, which created a great opportunity not just for networking, but discussions between those with information and those seeking it by choosing to sit at tables where you were either in the field or needed more information on it.

Raina Nelson, Kristen Yerecic Scott, David Sherrod, and more gathered for the official ribbon cutting at the start of the event

In the session that followed, Anne-Marie Roerink, President of 210 Analytics, cracked open data on the questions our industry is asking from the farm to the end consumer.

While much of the research was fascinating, my biggest takeaways were small measures that could be taken not just to improve communication with the consumer, but to gain credit for work our industry is already doing, such as posting in the produce aisle the times the product has been checked in a produce department. An already likely practice in stores is formed into a transparent moment to reach shoppers.

Likewise, ripe-right-now signs and other displays teaching consumers how to pick produce is an opportunity you instantly see being applied. And while older and younger consumers flip-flop on everything from flavor innovation to technology in the shopping experience, Anne-Marie Roerink reminds us to balance who is spending today and who is spending tomorrow.

Headphones like those worn by Harold Paivarinta and his son, Tim Graas, and Mike Roberts allowed attendees to tune into presentations in the middle of the show floor

This could not be summed up better than by keynote luncheon speaker Commander Rorke Denver’s teaching mantra “find an inch.”

A Navy SEAL Commander, New York Times Bestselling Author, and Founder of Ever Onward, Commander Denver has run every phase of training for the U.S. Navy SEALs and led special-forces missions in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, and other international hotspots among his many achievements, and he brought distilled wisdom, a sharp wit, levity, and some memorable lines to the Southern Innovations stage.

While there was so much to be shared, the most all-encompassing phrase any leader could utilize came when the commander had us all raise our hands above our head, then specified he wanted us to reach as high as we could.

Rob Jackson of Red Sun Farms grabbed the mic at an opening session on innovation

And then he asked us all to give him one more inch, which we all did, laughing as we realized we had another inch to give. He explained how the thing that creates constant improvement will likely be small, and so he would ask all he led to find him an inch wherever possible.

Find an inch and you will constantly innovate,” he promised.

It was the perfect note to send hundreds of us out onto the show floor to showcase and discuss new partnerships, products, and packaging.

Raina Nelson, President and Chief Executive Officer, Westfalia Fruit USA“Southern Innovations was energizing and inspiring! Rourke Denver delivered a motivating keynote that set the tone for an enthusiastic expo,” said Raina Nelson, President and Chief Executive Officer for Westfalia Fruit USA and SEPC’s 2022 Chairman. “The What’s New? Theater was an industry-first feature located in the center of the expo that brought insights from artificial intelligence and robotics to shelf-life extension and emerging biotechnology solutions. Every year, this event impresses forward-thinking ways to drive business in a fun networking platform.”

Nicole Hulstein, Produce Category Manager for Food Lion, agreed, taking a moment to share her thoughts on the experience.

Nicole Hulstein, Produce Category Manager, Food Lion“Southern Innovations put on another fantastic show—the expo was well laid out and provided plenty of opportunity to connect with one another to the business of tomorrow! The Southern Roots Luncheon afforded the ladies of the industry an opportunity to go a little deeper into knowing self and how our leadership shows up for ourselves and our people. The educational sessions challenged us to think differently about how customers are engaging with produce. The keynote speaker was fantastic—inspiring us all to lead and develop our teams to achieve remarkable results. Great job SEPC council!” she said.

I agreed that the schedule through the expo and beyond to the closing dinner-dance was an exciting agenda that ebbed and flowed, with the passing of the torch to the new Chairperson, Tim Graas of Associated Wholesale Grocers, making for a perfect finale.

“It has been one of the greatest honors to serve as Council Chairperson this past year,” Raina shared. “This Council is family, and I am proud of the way we passionately serve our members and the communities SEPC touches. We have an exciting strategy that will ensure continued success for decades to come. I cannot thank David Sherrod, the SEPC staff, our Board, and all our network of industry volunteers for the support this past year.”

While it is difficult to imagine topping the end of last week, SEPC continues to do so. Here is looking forward to March 2023’s Southern Exposure.

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…