David Sherrod (center), president and CEO of the Southeast Produce Council, cuts a cake with a sword at last year’s Southern Exposure to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the show. ( Photo by Amy Sowder )

The slate of education sessions Feb. 28 at the Southeast Produce Council’s Southern Exposure conference will begin with a conversation on one of the most-discussed issues in the industry — plastic.

Kristin Yerecic Scott, marketing director for New Kensington, Pa.-based Yerecic Label and co-chairwoman of the SEPC education committee, said the panel talk will focus on single-use plastics.

“We’re hoping that attendees are going to leave that session with a few different learnings,” Yerecic Scott said. 

“We’re really hoping that they understand a little bit more about the impact of single-use plastics in terms of recycling (and) understanding ways that they could potentially reduce single-use plastics but still keep the integrity of our products.

“We want to make sure that food safety and shrink and things like that are still gaining the benefit that we’ve seen from things like clamshells,” Yerecic Scott said. 

“Also, we’re going to be using some suppliers to show the tools (companies) could use to reduce their single-use plastics as well as improve them through making them potentially more recyclable or using less plastic content.”

The panel for the “Plight of Plastics” session will include Anabella de Freeman, senior manager for sustainability in produce for Walmart; Shannon Boase, director of new market development for CKF, which markets Earthcycle packaging; Janis McIntosh, director of marketing innovation and sustainability for Naturipe Farms; Kathy Lawrence, new business and market development for Proseal; Natalie Shuman, director of trade and retail marketing for Apeel Sciences; and Elizabeth Yerecic, key account manager for the Northeast and Midwest for Yerecic Label.

Another session will feature the new Power of Produce report, which details consumer research alongside sales data. Anne-Marie Roerink, principal of 210 Analytics, will present the research alongside a retail panel moderated by Rick Stein, vice president of fresh foods for the Food Industry Association (formerly called the Food Marketing Institute). 

The Power of Produce session panelists will be Food Lion vice president of produce Chris Dove; Target director of produce and floral Andrew Schuster; and Associated Wholesale Grocers vice president of corporate produce Reade Sievert.

“We always are very excited to see how trends are progressing as this is in its fifth year (of) the study itself,” Yerecic Scott said. 

“Connected to the ‘Plight of Plastics’ discussion ... there are some new questions in there this year regarding packaging and what consumers want from packaging in terms of functionality as well as the sustainability aspect of it.”

The women-only Southern Roots luncheon will feature Colette Carlson, a human behavior expert and the founder of Speak Your Truth.

For the final education session of Feb. 28, author and speaker Joe Waters will address attendees about how companies and nonprofits can establish mutually beneficial relationships.

“We thought it was really important to bring the theme for this year’s Southern Exposure of making a difference into our educational session, so Joe Waters is really well known for giving speeches to organizations about connecting business and philanthropy and this kind of concept of selfish giving, and he’s going to give us really a best-in-class example and how we can apply that to produce using these cause marketing strategies,” Yerecic Scott said. 

“It’ll tie in really well to the idea of having everybody showcase their charitable causes on the show floor, (as) the SEPC’s been promoting, as well as we’re even incorporating it a little bit into the Power of Produce, where we’ll be asking these retailers to talk about their charitable causes and why they’re important to them, as well as how grower-shippers can help them support those charitable causes and even promote the causes that the grower-shippers support.”

The keynote speaker Feb. 29 will be longtime NFL coach Tony Dungy, who was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016. His 13 seasons as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers included 10 straight postseason appearances. 

His record overall was 148-79, and he is one of just three people to win a Super Bowl as a player and as a head coach. He is now an analyst for NBC’s “Football Night in America.” 

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