Southern Innovations attendees visit with retailers after a panel Sept. 7. ( Ashley Nickle )

NASHVILLE — Produce companies visited with buyers about organic products, packaging that uses less plastic, value-added foodservice items and more during the Southern Innovations Organics & Foodservice Expo.

Exhibitors reported good traffic throughout the show, which is hosted by the Southeast Produce Council.

“It’s been great,” said Steven Shuman, sales manager for Glennville, Ga.-based G&R Farms. “We’ve had a lot of visitors come by the booth.”

Kim Fellom, sales and marketing for Salinas, Calif.-based Pacific International Marketing, described the event as an ideal place to network.

“We always appreciate a little smaller show,” Fellom said. “You can actually spend some time with people — you’re not pushing them out because the next people are waiting to get in. It’s nice. It’s a good size.”

Nick LeGrand, director of marketing for Mills River, N.C.-based Flavor 1st Growers and Packers, also characterized the show as a positive experience.

“It’s been good,” LeGrand said. “We’re hoping to develop our foodservice business, so that’s the big opportunity for us. We think this show will be a good stepping stone for that.”

David Sherrod, president and CEO of the Southeast Produce Council, said he also heard great feedback.

“Everybody that we talked to, it seems like we got exceptional reviews,” Sherrod said.

There were 91 booths, and about 160 retail and foodservice buyers attended. Sherrod said exhibitors appreciated the quality of buyer attendees and the time they got to spend with them at the show Sept. 7.

Wider aisles allowed for a better flow of traffic, and areas around the floor designed for conversation were another element the SEPC had in mind while planning the show, Sherrod said.

Before the expo, attendees had the chance to hear from retail and foodservice buyers on two educational panels, along with longtime college football coach Steve Spurrier as the keynote speaker for the event. Greg Ibach, undersecretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Marketing and Regulatory Programs, also took the main stage at the conference and reviewed the USDA’s trade mitigation programs.



The conference began Sept. 6 with a Southern Roots event for women on making meaningful connections with others in the industry. Dan’l Mackey Almy, CEO of Dallas-based DMA Solutions, led a discussion on how industry members can build the relationships that are so critical in what is always described as a people business.

A retailer panel the following day featured executives from Food Lion, Giant/Martin’s and The Fresh Market. They discussed how they approach sourcing and merchandising organic fruits and vegetables and how suppliers can add value for them, including with more value-added options, with more consistent availability of product, and with information on what trends they observe in other regions of the U.S.

Representatives from Chick-fil-A, Blue Apron and TC Restaurant Group were the focus of another panel that examined how chefs put together their menus and what their considerations are regarding produce.

The chefs in that group mentioned expense and customer demand as key factors in the decision-making process.

For all the buzz about healthy food, what people say they want and what they buy when they are actually hungry can be different, said Stuart Tracy, a chef on the culinary team for Chick-fil-A.

All three chefs suggested education is needed on why it is worth it for customers to spend an extra dollar or two for more fresh produce in a meal. They mentioned social media as a way to reach people.