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Record numbers at 2013 Southern Exposure

ORLANDO, FL — The Southeast Produce Council's 10th annual Southern Exposure was termed hugely successful in all areas, from the golf tournament to the field tours, from the keynote address to the trade show. And the conference drew record attendance throughout the event, held Feb. 28 to March 2 at the Caribe Royale Resort & Conference Center, here.

"I think the numbers are going to come up around 1,640," SPC Executive Director Terry Vorhees told The Produce News Tuesday, March 5, referring to total attendance. "That's a record. It sure is." Last year's event drew 1,599 people.

Friday's opening gala drew 1,200 people, and Saturday's keynote lunch drew 765 people, both records for their respective events, Mr. Vorhees said proudly. He attributed the record attendance at the keynote lunch to the popularity of both the featured speaker, legendary football coach Lou Holtz, as well as the recipient of the council's 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award, Paul J. DiMare of DiMare Fresh, who is well known throughout Florida circles and far beyond for his business insight and philanthropic endeavors.

Even the golf tournament, which kicks off Southern Exposure every year, drew rave reviews. "I have never heard so many comments on how great the golf tournament was," said Mr. Vorhees.

The expo — one of the main highlights of Southern Exposure — drew strong traffic through the aisles, with a strong retail and foodservice presence, as always. There were 238 exhibitors at the show, and there's a waiting list to exhibit.

Next year's expo will take place at the same venue, so the number of exhibitors is likely to remain about the same. In addition, the council has repeatedly heard from attendees and longtime exhibitors that the small, personal size of the event is the very thing that makes it so popular.

"People like the size of the show, and if we were to make it too much larger," some attendees might not return, said Mr. Vorhees. "The feedback from exhibitors and retailers is not to let it get too big. If attendance dropped, "then nobody would be happy," he said. "That's not something we want to happen."

Nevertheless, to balance the interests of all concerned, the council's leadership will be meeting in the next few weeks to try to address these concerns and come up with a workable solution.

Mr. Vorhees did say that he thought the number of exhibitors at next year's trade show could be increased slightly while still keeping the personal touch that everyone likes; he mentioned a figure of 250 exhibitors as a possibility for 2014.

But as for the just-completed 2013 Southern Exposure, Mr. Vorhees said that overall, "We were very pleased. Everything seemed to run at a good pace. I think it's something to be very proud of for our 10th anniversary."