One significant change and other subtle updates await attendees of the 2017 Southern Exposure conference put on by the Millen, Ga.-based Southeast Produce Council.

The annual conference, featuring the theme "The Magic of Produce," is scheduled for March 9-11 at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort in Orlando, Fla.

"We will have a few magic tricks throughout the show, and we have some magic elements that we'll be adding to the golf tournament on Thursday all the way through to the conclusion reception we have on Saturday," said David Sherrod, SEPC executive director.

The major change comes in the form of a third educational workshop.

Called The Commissioners' Corner, it will feature the five agricultural commissioners from Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.

"Our biggest goal at the council has always been to provide our attendees with the best networking and education experiences," Sherrod said.

"Our focus has been on not getting too many attendees because we want to have that feeling of intimacy that people have come to know us for. It's one of the things we strive to do."

Updates at Southern Exposure include improvements to the conference app and the addition of a social media game to encourage conversation before and during the conference, said Teri Miller, SEPC president and produce senior category manager for The Fresh Market, Greensboro, N.C.

"We've put a lot of effort into our social media engagement this year with all-new digital toolkits to help sponsors and exhibitors promote their attendance at the show, a new game we encourage all attendees to participate in for prizes, and all-new enhancements to our app to make the conference experience even easier," she said.

"Don't forget to use the hashtag #SouthernExpo."

Notable speakers

Southern Exposure has assembled a formidable list of speakers for the conference.

Educational Workshop III will feature Canadian author David Sax, an award-winning writer who has written about food trends, among other topics.

"David Sax will offer our attendees a different view on food trends - not necessarily the next 'big thing' but the how, what and why behind food trends," Miller said.

"(These trends) can be such an anomaly in our industry. Getting a better understanding from someone who has looked at them under a microscope to understand them should be very enlightening for our attendees in future forward planning for their companies."

Alison Levine, mountaineer and author of the New York Times bestseller On the Edge, will address the Southern Roots gathering as its keynote speaker.

"The Southern Roots committee continues to strategically develop programming and provide speakers that help women working in the produce industry become better versions of themselves, both professionally and personally," Miller said.

"This year's speaker, Alison Levine, will provide a motivating session for all attendees, encouraging both physical and mental strength we many not always think we have within ourselves."

On Saturday, Willie Robertson of "Duck Dynasty" fame will take the stage as the Southern Exposure's keynote speaker.

The Louisiana native is somewhat of a 21st-century Renaissance man as he is a TV personality, businessman (CEO of Duck Commander), outdoorsman, hunter and author.

"We have two great motivational speakers in Willie Robertson and Alison Levine," Sherrod said.

"I think they will bring a fresh perspective that will help us in our jobs and our daily lives."

All together, the agenda equals a "can't miss" event for Diana McClean.

"We don't miss Southern Exposure," said McClean, director of marketing for Castroville, Calif.-based Ocean Mist Farms.

"It is definitely on our list every year, and it's because of the great format of the show, including the exhibits and sessions."

 
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