(UPDATED COVERAGE, 4:20 p.m.) ORLANDO, Fla. — Attracted by the rays of Florida’s sunshine, the Southeast Produce Council attracted its biggest number of retail and foodservice buyers ever at its yearly conference and exposition.
Southern Exposure 2011 drew 1,409 retail, foodservice and wholesale professionals to the Caribe Royale Resort & Conference Center for the March 3-5 event.
Terry Vorhees, the Riverview-based council’s executive director, said the 1,340 registrations the group had on March 4 quickly increased as more attendees from central Florida foodservice operations such as Darden Restaurants registered on site. This year’s show surpassed last year’s record 1,300 participants.
Up to 307 produce purchasers participated in the golf tournament, field tours, educational sessions, trade show, receptions and parties, up 22% from the 241 in 2010, Vorhees said.
Exhibitors and buyers expressed satisfaction with show turnout.
“This is a big turnout. This thing really rocks,” said Steve Williams, director of produce and floral for Sweetbay Supermarkets, Tampa, a division of the Brussels-based Delhaize Group. “As long as it keeps increasing membership value, it will continue to grow.”
On March 4, buses loaded with retail and foodservice buyers visited central Florida citrus groves and a citrus research center to see harvesting, packing and fruit variety development.
Visiting a valencia grove, buyers saw late-season fruit harvesting and watched grapefruit and oranges running at the Haines City Citrus Growers Association’s packinghouse, viewing fresh citrus from grove to shipment.
“Our industry has a rich tradition that is able to overcome hurricanes and diseases,” said Greg Nelson, president of DNE World Fruit Sales, Fort Pierce, which markets the association’s fruit. “One of the reasons is due to the fortitude of the people in this business.”