Nashville big draw for Southeast produce conferenceNASHVILLE, Tenn. — Bringing members to Music City USA helped the Southeast Produce Council fall conference swell to its largest attendance.

More than 200 people jammed a “get acquainted” reception at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center during a Sept. 22 opening reception.

High participation before the Sept. 22-24 conference’s main activities proved a good sign, said council president John Shuman, president of Shuman Produce Inc., Reidsville, Ga. He said the venue and increasing council interest helped boost the numbers.

This year’s conference attracted 264 produce grower-shippers, distributors, marketers and retail and foodservice buyers, higher than the 190 that attended last year’s event in Savannah, Ga., said Terry Vorhees, executive director of the East Ellijay, Ga.-based group.

During a Sept. 24 president’s dinner/dance, members recognized Steve Williams, the council’s immediate past treasurer, for his council service. The former director of produce and floral for Sweetbay Supermarkets, Tampa, Fla., a division of the Brussels-based Delhaize Group, Williams has been promoted to director of merchandising for Sweetbay’s meat, seafood, bakery and deli divisions.

“The energy and enthusiasm he brings to whatever he’s doing is contagious,” Shuman said. “The work he has done has been incredible.”

In his Sept. 24 state of the council address, Shuman reviewed council achievements and various programs council members support.

“The council is financially sound,” he said. “This is our largest to-date fall conference. Southern Exposure in 2011 was our largest to-date as well.”

At a Sept. 23 keynote luncheon and afternoon educational session, motivational speaker Harold Lloyd, who has managed retail and foodservice operations, emphasized higher productivity through better employee relationships through his “Help wanted: building the team of your dreams” presentation.

“Average companies don’t bring in outsiders,” he said. “They blame others, the weather, Wal-Mart and Obama for their mistakes. Great companies still educate themselves and their workers. Smart people rule.”

Julius Johnson, Tennessee’s commissioner of agriculture, told attendees that their presence means much to the Volunteer State.

“We need to hang together in agriculture,” Johnson said. “Produce is an important and a growing part of Tennessee agriculture. Though we’re not a heavily-regulated state, we are trying to reduce our regulations so we can compete better in world markets.”

Council leaders elected board member Sheila Carden, the Richmond, Va.-based retail marketing director for the California Avocado Commission and Hass Avocado Board, Irvine, as treasurer, and chose Steve Pinkston, regional buying team leader for Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to serve on the group’s board.

The council also re-elected current board members, including Shuman, president; Andrew Scott, sales and procurement manager for General Produce Inc., Forest Park, Ga., first vice president; David Sherrod, Millen, Ga.-based southeast regional business manager for Apio Inc., Guadalupe, Calif., second vice president; and Mark Daniels, senior buyer of the Savannah division of Military Produce Group, Norfolk, Va., secretary.