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A dose of Florida weather in late winter certainly doesn’t hurt, but attendees say there are plenty of other benefits to attending the Southeast Produce Council’s annual Southern Exposure conference and expo. 

The event is a prime opportunity to network with colleagues and customers, as well as showcase new products and get a firsthand glimpse at what the competition is offering, said Charlie Eagle, vice president of business development with Pompano Beach, Fla.-based Southern Specialties.

“Attendance at this show is always great,” Eagle said. “We get to meet with buyers from major retailers and foodservice distributors. The networking opportunities are terrific and the programs that SEPC offers help round out the opportunities to bring real value to the attendees.”

Benefits of attending are too numerous to count, said Jeff Thomas, marketing director with Lucama, N.C.-based Scott Farms Inc.

“Of course, it offers the opportunity for showcasing new and existing products, but it gives the chance to interact and find out what your customer is looking for now and in the future,” Thomas said. 

Personal contact that Southern Exposure provides also is crucial, Thomas said.

“By having the opportunity to be face-to-face, you can get a sense of what is important to them,” he said.

Timing is one reason Wenatchee, Wash.-based apple, pear and cherry grower Stemilt Growers LLC will travel more than 3,000 miles to attend Southern Exposure., said Brianna Shales, communications manager.

“The show is just two months from our cherry season start and so we get to show what will be new when it comes to cherries this season while there,” she said. 

For Rio Rico, Ariz.-based grower-shipper SunFed, Southern Exposure is an opportunity to get together with peers on both the growing and selling sides, as well as good customers, said Matt Mandel vice president of operations.

“Occasionally we are highlighting new products, but independent of that, it is a great atmosphere to connect and re-connect with customers we often talk to over the phone on a nearly daily basis with very little face time,” Mandel said. 

“You can’t put a price on the value of that face-to-face interaction.”

Timing of the event is crucial for Plant City, Fla.-based Wish Farms, said Nick Wishnatzki, marketing projects manager.

“Southern Exposure highlights suppliers of the South. For Wish Farms, the show takes place during the peak time during our Florida strawberry season and just before the start of our Florida blueberry season,” he said. 

“Our team loves the show because it’s in our backyard.”