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Southern Innovations 2019 to offer a symphony of opportunities

A symphony is about to take place in the produce world.

The Southeast Produce Council will hold its 2019 Southern Innovations Organics & Foodservice Expo Sept. 12-14 at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville, TN, popularly known as Music City, USA.David-SherrodDavid Sherrod

As the SEPC noted in a recent informational brochure, the upcoming event will be "a three-day symphony of opportunities to experience the Southeast Produce Council's four pillars of Networking, Innovation, Community And Education, all while keeping time to the rhythm and Southern charm of Music City."

Before the official opening of this year's event, there will be a dinner Wednesday evening, Sept. 11, in downtown Nashville for the board of directors and those involved with one of the council's premier programs, the Southeast Training Education Program for Upcoming Produce Professionals, known as STEP-UPP.

On Thursday, Sept. 12, the council's RECIPE Roadshow will take place from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

"We decided this year to bring RECIPE in as part of our whole expo experience and try to garner some of the end users from the Nashville area to come over and get an education on the produce items that they're using," David Sherrod, the council's president and chief executive officer, told The Produce News in mid-August about the council's Regional Education of Culinary Information for Produce Executives program. "So we're excited about that. We've got a really good expert panel that's going to be going over potatoes, lettuce, onions and tomatoes. That's going to be led by Ronnie De La Cruz [of De La Cruz Consulting & Training], and of course Lori Taylor [of The Produce Moms] is going to add a lot of insight from the consumer side." They will be joined on the panel by Stanley Trout of the Idaho Potato Commission, Chef Jason Henderson of Straight Path Consulting, Larry Narwold of Mann Packing, Chef Ed Butler of U.S. Foods, Teri Trost of Gills Onions, Chef Barry O'Connor of Performance Food Group, Jeff DeBoer of Sysco/Fresh Point and Chef Jody DiSabantonio of Sysco.

"We do have a portion of people coming in just for the day who are local, so we're excited to be able to add that element to our conference," said Sherrod. "There'll be a chef demo that goes along with each one of the presentations, so that adds that interactive element to the presentations. There's a lot there. We hope a lot of people will take advantage of this."

Southern Roots, the council's leadership program for women in produce, will hold a luncheon from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. featuring a presentation by Shasta Nelson, a speaker, author and leading expert on friendship.

Her presentation "kind of gets to the essence of what the SEPC is and what Southern Roots is all about, too," said Sherrod. "It isn't all about produce. It's about the kind of person we can become and what kind of person we are in this industry. So we're excited about having her there and sharing her thoughts."

The Welcome Reception will take place from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., with musical entertainment by up-and-coming country music singer-songwriter Daniel E. Johnson.

"This looks like it's going to be a really good time," said Sherrod. Referring again to this year's symphony theme, he added, "Everything's going to be about the ensemble that we've got for the [event] and what it takes to make up this whole produce industry -- just like an orchestra. I think it'll be a beautiful display of who we are."

On Friday, Sept. 13, there will be two educational sessions.

The first session, titled Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Organics but Were Afraid to Ask, will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. Moderator Rick Stein of the Food Marketing Institute will be joined by Anne-Marie Roerink of 210 Analytics LLC, Dave Lessard of Giant/Martins, Wendi Jennings of The Ag Safety Lady, Jeff Huckaby of Grimmway Farms and Heather Wood of Awe Sum Organics.

"We feel like we've got a really good fact-based presentation this year," said Sherrod. "We've got a really diverse panel, a really good mix that's going to give you a good idea of what it takes to be in organics, and also what retailers are looking for. We're trying to hit every aspect that we can with this panel."

The second session, titled Avocado to Zucchini: Trending Produce in Foodservice, will be held from 10 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. Moderator Matt Roy of U.S. Foods will be joined by Anthony Kingsley of U.S. Foods; Rob Sterioti of MOOYAH Burgers, Fries, Shakes; Bret Thorn of Nation's Restaurant News/Restaurant Hospitality; and Randy Keene of Zaxby's Franchising LLC.

"We'll be looking at what it takes to run a successful chain and what are the trends within the foodservice and hospitality business," said Sherrod. "And again, we feel like we've got a really good panel of experts."

The general session and keynote luncheon will take place from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Steve Robinson, the former executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Chick-fil-A Inc., from 1981 to 2015, will deliver the keynote address. He will be speaking about what goes into a successful marketing campaign from the foodservice side, noted Sherrod.

Also at the general session, the outgoing STEP-UPP class members will receive their graduation certificates, and the members of the next class will be announced.

The exposition will take place from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. "We're excited to say that we're at 106 exhibitors [and sold out]," said Sherrod. That's up from 92 exhibitors last year. "We feel we have a really good mix of organic and foodservice participants."

The last event Friday is the Chairman's Dinner Dance, from 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m., with entertainment by American country music singer-songwriter Chris Lane.

Ross Williams of Titan Farms, who received the second annual Next Generation Award at last year's dinner dance, will introduce the nominees for this year's award and will then announce the winner. This award, which is co-sponsored by The Produce News, honors a young person from the next generation of produce leaders for the industry.

The evening also will see the presentation of service awards to the members of the board of directors who will be retiring.

And with the passing of the gavel ceremony, outgoing Chairman Steve Pinkston of Sunny Valley International will pass the torch to incoming Chairman Brandon Parker of Shuman Farms, who will be joined by Vice Chairman Harold Paivarinta of Red Sun Farms, Secretary Raina Nelson of Renaissance Food Group and Treasurer Tim Graas of Associated Wholesale Grocers.

On Saturday, Sept. 14, there will be three concurrent activities: the Founders Memorial Golf Tournament at the Gaylord Springs Golf Links, which at 144 expected participants would be sold out; the Sporting Clays Tournament at the Nashville Gun Club; and The Franklin Experience local tour.

The Ultimate Tailgate Experience, from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., concludes the event, as always, but "we're kicking it up a notch this year with some new games," such as pool tables, Ping Pong tables and digital games, said Sherrod.

Southern Innovations 2019 was just one month away when Sherrod offered additional thoughts on the upcoming event.

"We've got over 225 buyers already signed up from the retail, foodservice and wholesale community. That's as of today," he said Aug. 15. "We really feel like that's going to keep growing, as we still have a few weeks left." Last year's total attendance was about 650, "and we're expecting over 800 this year," he said.

"We're just about where we want to be," he added. "It's planned growth. That's how we do things. It's measured. And we are up exactly where we wanted to be this year. With the size of the venue, we feel like we're perfect at where we are this year. We want to grow at that rate, which keeps providing for the intimate relationship at our shows."

He concluded, "We've got a really good buyer-to-seller ratio this year. One out of four people there is going to be a buyer. That's saying a lot. It's going to be a really good, intimate show, and I think that people are going to get a lot done. This is going to be a really good show for everybody."