HILTON HEAD ISLAND, SC — The Southeast Produce Council fall Southern Innovations conference has always been a great gathering. But the addition of value-added purpose with the 2017 focus on organics and foodservice at the Westin Hilton Head Island Resort here is a game-changer. Anybody in those sectors should probably start making reservations for the 2018 show in Nashville now.

So what did you miss if you weren’t there? Everything. Leadership torches passed. Workshops were packed wall-to-wall. Daphne Oz from ABC TV’s ‘The Chew’ wowed the crowd as keynote speaker. Retail tours, dinner and dancing, golf and fishing and a slamming tailgate party and auction for Irma relief were among the other highlights.

Rebecca Robertson of Grimmway Farms found a rock — there were 50 hand-painted ones hidden around the Westin Hilton Head Islands resort property that could be cashed in for sweet prizes at Southern Innovations

The Westin staff came up big time and again – great venue for Southern Innovations on the Atlantic coastline. Here they were on the spot in two minutes with some cable ties SPW’s Jenni Kight needed to just before our interview with…

Keynote breakfast speaker Daphne Oz, author of several best-sellers and for years a member of ABC TV’s The Chew (she left in August – baby number two is due soon). Here Daphne’s just pulled off a nifty hairflip right before Jenni hooks up a microphone

SEPC’s John Avola, Anna Burch, Sarah Sherrod and Molly Edenfield with Daphne Oz right after a post-keynote book-signing

Charlie Eagle from Southern Specialties was one of the inaugural expo’s 73 exhibitors.

Arthur Rudolph and Tim Forseth of Robinson. Thanks for the service to the SEPC Board Tim! (He retired at this year’s conference)

Charlotte Vick of Vick Farms

The Generation Farms team: Josh Adams, Jamie Brannen, Lauren Dees and Chris Hill

Kelley Precythe and Brenda Oglesby of Southern Produce

Outgoing SEPC Chairman Teri Miller of Fresh Market with Jessica Kerstein of Lipman. Thanks for all your hard work Teri!

John Williams of L.G. Herndon Jr. Farms.

New Nash Produce Marketing Director Tami Long with President Thomas Joyner

Nick LeGrand of Flavor 1st Growers and Packers

Jon Schwalls and Dug Schwalls of Southern Valley with Harold Sbrocco of Sbrocco International

Blair Greenhill and Andrew Scott of the Nickey Gregory Company

Al Finch of Florida Classic Growers with Seab Temples of Reinhart Foodservice

When The Fat Man sings… people listen. The latter half of culinary duo Chef and The Fat Man was master of ceremonies for the chefs who kept a nonstop lunch buffet running while the tradeshow was underway

Tim Forseth with the newest member of the Robinson team Jack McCann. Wicked golf game, Jack…

Tommy Collinsworth and Heath Wetherington of Baker Farms

Mark Daniels and Derek Powell of General Produce

Jenni Kight preps a microphone for Mike Prather of Handy Candy before a video interview

Daphne Oz on camera with SPW

An actual tailgate at a tailgate party. SEPC you rock!

Represent! The Bulldog Gals from the SEPC at the tailgate…

…plus one. Go Dawgs, says SPW’s Chip Carter

The Westin ballroom decked out for The Ultimate Tailgate Party. Which it really was.

Florida fans brought some sunshine to the room

An auction raised money for Hurricane Irma relief. It wasn’t all Georgia Bulldogs – that’s just all we saw

Martin Eubanks made off with a UGA helmet signed by the great Herschel Walker. We maybe should mention (or maybe not) that Martin is the Assistant Commissioner of Agriculture. For the State of South Carolina.

A closer look

How’d this get in here? Final score of some football game that was on…

Andrew Scott of the Nickey Gregory Company and SEPC’s Molly Edenfield get in one last round before it’s time to pack it all up and head home. See you in Nashville in 2018 (But first… Southern Exposure 2018 in Tampa!)

There were 556 registered attendees — a record that’s likely to only last a year. No doubt the 73 booths at the inaugural Southern Innovations expo will be topped next year as well.

“This has always been a great conference but the focus on organics and foodservice is a real value-added,” said SEPC Executive Director David Sherrod.

Things kicked off the morning of Sept. 28 with tours through the organic sections of four supermarkets. At noon, the Southern Roots women’s networking luncheon convened. Program leader and outgoing SEPC Chairman Teri Miller of Fresh Market turned over the Southern Roots reins to Stephanie Hilton of the Tom Lange Co. Later that evening guests thronged the beachside pool deck for a welcoming barbecue.

Friday morning, Oz brought down the house at the keynote breakfast with her insight into the value of nutrition and the role it plays in millennial homes.

Workshops focused on Organics and marketing to millennials followed. Both were standing room only. (EDITOR’S NOTE: LOOK FOR A VIDEO AND EDITORIAL PACKAGE ABOUT BOTH WORKSHOPS IN A SPECIAL RELEASE SPW NEWSLETTER NEXT WEEK)

Friday night’s dinner and dance was also the setting for awards and honors. Miller handed off to new Chairman Faye Westfall of DiMare Fresh. Tim Forseth of Robinson Fresh and Dug Schwalls of Southern Valley Fruit & Vegetable Inc. were recognized for their service as outgoing board members. Adam Lytch of the L&M Cos. in Raleigh, NC was announced as recipient of the annual Next Generation Award.

New officers introduced were Vice Chairman Steve Pinkston of Walmart Stores Inc., Secretary Brandon Parker of Shuman Produce and Treasurer Harold Paivarinta of Red Sun Farms.

There were tears, there were laughs — then there was dancing.

It didn’t show Saturday morning. Golf and fishing started bright and early (some folks opted for a tour of nearby historic Bluffton, SC).

Then it was tailgate time. With actual tailgates. The Westin ballroom handily held a pair, packed to the roofs with gametime goodies.

A few hours later it was all over. Contacts made, lessons learned, games won and a great time was had by all.

See you in Nashville (but don’t forget Southern Exposure 2018 in Tampa first!).



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