NASHVILLE — From informative education sessions to a dynamic keynote presentation, from an interactive Southern Roots luncheon to the presentation of the Next Generation Award, from the introduction of the new officers to the energetic trade show, the Southeast Produce Council's 2019 Southern Innovations Organics & Foodservice Expo was by all accounts another successful and rewarding event.
Southern Innovations 2019, which was themed "A Symphony of Produce" and which was held at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, officially kicked off Thursday, Sept. 12, with the RECIPE session for foodservice members, moderated by Ronnie De La Cruz of De La Cruz Consulting & Training and featuring teams of industry experts and guest chefs.
Southern Roots, the council's leadership program for women in produce, held a luncheon in the afternoon featuring a presentation by Shasta Nelson, a friendship expert whose programs teach how to create healthier, more fulfilling relationships in people's lives.
The Welcome Reception in the evening featured entertainment by Daniel E. Johnson.
On Friday, Sept. 13, attendees had an opportunity to enjoy two educational sessions; the first was Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Organics but were Afraid to Ask, and the second was Avocado to Zucchini, Trending Produce in Foodservice.
At the general session and keynote luncheon, outgoing Chairman of the Board Steve Pinkston of Sunny Valley International spoke about the state of the council. Mike Roberts of Harps Food Stores and Faye Westfall of DiMare Fresh Tampa, coordinators of the Southeast Training Education Program for Upcoming Produce Professionals, presented certificates to the 2019 graduating STEP-UPP class members, and Pinkston announced the 11 members of the 2020 class.
Also at this session, Pinkston and SEPC President and CEO David Sherrod introduced all of the nominees of the third annual Next Generation Award, which is co-sponsored by The Produce News and which honors a young person from the next generation of produce leaders for the industry. Last year's recipient, Ross Williams of Titan Farms, then announced this year's recipient: Andrew Hare of Vertical Roots.
Steve Robinson, the former executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Chick-fil-A Inc., delivered the keynote address.
The main event in the afternoon was the expo, where more than 100 exhibitors showcased a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables for the huge number of retail and foodservice buyers walking the trade show floor.
The day ended with the Chairman's Dinner Dance, which featured entertainment by Chris Lane. During the Chairman's Dinner Dance, Outgoing Chairman of the Board Steve Pinkston officially passed the gavel to incoming Chairman Brandon Parker of Shuman Farms, who is 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.
The annual Founders Memorial Golf Tournament was held Saturday morning, Sept. 14, where the winning team of Brandon Parker of Shuman Farms, Tomas Gonzales of Walmart Stores, Dug Schwalls of Southern Valley Fruit & Vegetable Inc. and John Williams of Royal Foodservice shot 54, or 16 under par.
As always, the event concluded with the Ultimate Tailgate Party.
Attendees and exhibitors alike had nothing but praise for the event when they spoke to The Produce News.
Leslie Simmons of Dave's Specialty Imports Inc. said, "I think it's awesome. We had steady traffic all day. Similar to Southern Exposure, we had a lot of people coming by asking good questions and really wanting to know more about our business. We see a lot of value in this show."
Lucretia Parish of Giorgio Fresh said, "I think it's going great. We're seeing a nice cross section of our customer base, both retail and foodservice. We're seeing very good traffic. I love it!"
Scott Chapman of Nickey Gregory Co. said, "There's more one-on-one contact here, and it's good to re-connect with our customers. We're getting a lot of good vibes about our foodservice packs. There's always good value in this show."
Paul Newstead of Domex Superfresh Growers said, "This is always a good show. SEPC is a class act. We're seeing a good mix of retail and foodservice buyers. Traffic has been great. We're looking forward to coming back."
Brad Evans of Edward L. Myrick Produce Inc. said, "The intimacy of this show will provide benefits to our company long term. It gives us an idea what people are looking for on the foodservice and organic sides. This is our first time exhibiting at Southern Innovations; we'll definitely be back next year."
Lonnie Gillespie of Farm Fresh Direct said, "We're happy with the good traffic and the good retailers in attendance. The floor plan is good, the flow is good, the speakers have been excellent. We'll be back!"
Tim Harrington of Stemilt Growers said, "I love this show. Stemilt has a robust season-long organic program, so this show is perfect for us. I've seen a lot of the best organic buyers in the country at this show."
For those who like to plan ahead, next year's Southern Innovations will be held Sept. 17-19 at the Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort in Savannah, GA.