Visitors attending this year’s Southern Exposure should expect many changes from previous years.

To improve the show, scheduled for Feb. 27 to March 1 at the Caribe Royal Resort & Conference Center in Orlando, Fla., the Southeast Produce Council plans to make mostly minor changes, said Terry Vorhees, executive director of the East Ellijay, Ga.-based organization.

The alterations are designed to allow produce suppliers more time to interact with their retail and foodservice buyers, he said.

One big change, however, is the suspension of buyer field tours.

Though the tours aren’t permanently cancelled, they are not included in this year’s show, Vorhees said.

Instead of loading retail and foodservice buyers on buses to visit nearby growing and shipping operations, the council instead plans to use that time on the Friday morning of the convention for its educational sessions, which formerly were on the Saturday morning of the expo, he said.

“Not that we will give up on tours, but this year we want to try something different,” Vorhees said.

“When you host tours every year and host the show in one particular location, like Orlando, you want to make sure attendees see something new and fresh each year. We also don’t want something that takes over an hour to drive to. Last year, we had people say they didn’t think they’d ever get off that bus.”

The March 1 keynote luncheon this year features former Pittsburgh Steelers coach and CBS Sports NFL analyst Bill Cowher, as well as a council awards presentation.

With an earlier scheduled start that’s designed to allow for expanded expo time, the luncheon is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. with a first course of fruit, coffee and beverages followed by the keynote speech and luncheon.

The council plans to present its annual lifetime achievement award and also recognize its Southeast Training Education Program for Upcoming Professionals.

Nicknamed STEP-UP, the educational program, which began in 2011, helps train emerging retail and foodservice professionals.

Another change involves limiting of conference participation.

In the past, more individuals from non-exhibiting companies attended, including trade press representatives.

Vorhees said that caused problems on the trade show floor.

“We had to make a tough decision on those non-exhibiting attendees, the ones who choose to only come and walk the floor but not exhibit,” he said.

“It was getting to the point to where our exhibitors and even some of our retail buyers told us we have so many people in those show aisles that aren’t buyers and aren’t exhibitors.”

The council is trying to prohibit non-exhibiting companies from sending large numbers of people to the show and this year is limiting exhibitor participation to four admissions, Vorhees said.

Vorhees acknowledged the attendance restrictions could limit the annual attendance increases the show has traditionally seen, but said the expo aisles should be less crowded and allow for better supplier and customer interactions.

To better accommodate exhibitors after the expo ends, the council this year also plans to begin the farewell reception earlier than in the past.

In previous shows, that smaller and less formal reception started around 6:30 p.m.

To allow exhibitors who just finished the show to participate before leaving, the council plans to begin the final reception at 6 p.m., Vorhees said.

Some exhibitors asked the council to start the reception earlier so they could participate and say their farewells to the buyers and others that participated, he said.

“With these changes, I think we are continuing to add value to the attendees, whether those activities be through field trips or educational workshops,” said show chairman Bobby Creel, director of business development for Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc.

“We have to be adding value because they keep coming back.”