Packer Report - SEPC's Southern Exposure
Attendees of Southern Exposure visit on the tradeshow floor March 10. ( Ashley Nickle )

ORLANDO, Fla. — The Southeast Produce Council marked the 20th anniversary of its Southern Exposure conference and expo with another successful event.

David Sherrod, president and CEO of SEPC, said about 2,500 people attended, and roughly 270 companies exhibited.

Along with the expo, Southern Exposure featured a full day of education sessions, including a review of the new Power of Produce report from the Food Marketing Institute.

That session also featured perspective from Mike Tipton, vice president of produce and floral for Schnucks; Marty Mika, business development manager for produce for Central Market; and Bill Pollard, director of produce for Dollar General.

“It was standing room only,” Sherrod said. “We are just happy with this collaboration that we have with FMI. It just seems to be a good complement to each other, our orgs work well together, and everybody that attended the session thought it was absolutely great information.”

The report, which made its debut at the show, covered topics including attitudes toward packaged produce, insights on millennial purchasing and retail channel analysis.

Other sessions covered food as medicine — including an address by Travis Stork, a physician who stars on talk show The Doctors — along with presentations on marketing and food safety.

“We really had a pretty all-star cast of educational sessions,” Sherrod said. “I think they all got kind of summed up with our keynote speaker, so I think all of that just kind of worked together and really was touting the medicinal purposes of what produce can do for you.

“I think that really added a lot this year as an underlying theme,” Sherrod said. “Hopefully we can carry that through what we do all year, even into Southern Innovations.”

One element new to the show was the presence of innovation stations between the two exhibit halls, where companies could feature their new products.

“I went through there a while ago and talked to all of them, and they were all excited about the traffic that they had,” Sherrod said.

Several exhibitors noted that they enjoy the size of Southern Exposure, compared with national shows, because it allows for meaningful connections with many of their customers.

“There’s always a good energy,” said Leslie Simmons, vice president of Miami-based Dave’s Specialty Imports. “I think that we always find a lot of value in this show because the conversations are very real and down to earth, people ask good questions. It just feels more intimate and you’re connected a little more.”

Kirby Johnson, owner of Mills River, N.C.-based Flavor 1st, also gave a positive review.

“We love this show,” Johnson said. “We’ve been coming here for years ... You get the one-on-one (time).

“I really enjoy it,” Johnson said. “Always have.”

Julie VanAcker, business development manager for Salinas, Calif.-based organicgirl, also endorsed the event and noted its size as an asset.

“The SEPC is just one of the best shows,” VanAcker said. “It’s manageable, it’s small enough that you get your one-on-one time with your customers.”