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SEPC 2019 celebrates 20th anniversary in style

ORLANDO, FL -- The Southeast Produce Council celebrated its 20th anniversary at its Southern Exposure conference and expo March 7-9 at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort, here. And by all accounts, the anniversary was the culmination of everything the council has achieved in those two decades.

"From the start of the expo to the very end, we just felt like we saw more engagement from more of our attendees than we ever had," David Sherrod, president and chief executive officer of the council, told The Produce News Monday, March 11, as he was returning from the event. "The excitement this year seemed to be more evident than ever before."

He continued, "Maybe it was just part of the 20th anniversary, I just know that every one of us on the [Executive Committee] heard great comments on how big a turnout there was for all the functions."sepc6183The STARS breakfast on Friday, March 8, featured a presentation by Dan'l Mackey Almy (right), president and CEO of DMA Solutions Inc. She is shown with Raina Nelson of Renaissance Food Group and treasurer of the SEPC board of directors, who heads the Southeast Top Agricultural Recruits Scholarship Program.

Sherrod pointed out that "all the education sessions were packed" with standing-room-only crowds. "I just felt like all the topics were on point and really drilled down to the level that all of our attendees could get something out of them professionally and personally."

One of the sessions, The Power of Produce, presented a wealth of information by the Food Marketing Institute, which was debuting that report at Southern Exposure for the first time.

"All of that data that we were able to provide in the debut of that report was invaluable," said Sherrod. "People were really listening to that report, and it was great that we were able to have that collaboration with them."

Commenting on the keynote speaker, Sherrod said, "I felt like Dr. Travis Stork actually recapped [exactly] what we were trying to get across as far as the medicinal purposes of fresh produce."

Regarding the overall event, Sherrod said, "I think everything went as well as could be expected -- and beyond that. It was a really good representation of all the hard work that went into making Southern Exposure the gold standard in our industry."

He continued, "It was amazing. Everyone there was having a good time while they were doing their work. People were really getting a lot out of it."

He added, "For us to be able to celebrate our 20th anniversary, when it was all said and done, I feel like we did it the way in the manner that this council was formed -- and in the spirit that it was formed. We feel that we are achieving all the goals that were set forth 20 years ago."sepc6159The 2019 Tom Page Golf Classic was held Thursday, March 7, at Disney's Magnolia & Palms Golf Course in Orlando, FL. The winning foursome on the Palms course were Steve Burch and Howard Litaker of SMP Marketing, Aaron Miller of Booth Ranches and Bill Pollard of Dollar General.

And the attendees and exhibitors who spoke to The Produce News during the trade show certainly agreed with that assessment.

Faye Westfall of DiMare Fresh Tampa and a former chairperson of the SEPC board of directors said, "It just keeps getting better. It's going to be difficult to top this year. But every year we top the previous year. The speaker at the Southern Roots luncheon was excellent. There was awesome traffic at the trade show. And I think we had the best workshops that we've had in a long time."

Maggie Bezart of Avocados from Mexico said, "I love the venue. It's roomy and open. The attendance has been spectacular. There has been [such] incredible traffic that I have to evaluate whether to bring more people next year." She added, "This is a venue where you can bring your family. And the timing for us is perfect." Also, "I'm always appreciative of an association that gives back. That's really important. This is truly a unique event."

Harold Sbrocco of Sbrocco International Inc. said, "This council is incredible. This show is incredibly good. Everything they do from beginning to end is good. When they say Southern Exposure, they mean exposure. There are a lot of buyers, here, a lot of friends. You're really able to make a good presentation here."

He added, "And the timing is good for us because March is the peak month for grapes coming into the U.S. from Chile. Then around April 1 we'll start with Galas and Granny Smiths out of Chile, then we'll start our clementines in May, our lemons in June and our oranges in July."sepc6161The 2019 Tom Page Golf Classic was held Thursday, March 7, at Disney's Magnolia & Palms Golf Course in Orlando, FL. The winning foursome on the Magnolia course were Kenneth Todd of Del Monte Fresh Produce, Walter Vaughan of U.S. Foods, Dave Yeager of Schmieding Produce and Derek Ennis of L&M Cos.

Sharon Robb of North Bay Produce said, "Southern Roots was very good with a great speaker. They always have a good speaker, and this year was no exception." She added, "The show has been busy, with a good mix of customers stopping by. We're seeing a lot of decision-makers. The show is always great; they do such a wonderful job. It's been so amazing to watch it grow."

Jim Allen of New York Apple Sales said, "We've been very busy today at the show, networking, seeing old friends. I enjoy seeing what everybody else is doing as I've walked the floor."

Leslie Simmons of Dave's Specialty Imports said, "This is always one of our favorite shows. We find great value in this show. Customers spend a lot of time with us. And even though it's a busy show, it doesn't feel rushed." She continued, "Part of what's great about SEPC is that they make you feel like family. And I like that they do a theme. We always have a lot of fun with that."

The SEPC's next event will be the Southern Innovations Organics & Foodservice Expo, scheduled to take place Sept. 12-14 at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville, TN.