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For years, the Southeast Produce Council put its primary focus on its legendary spring tradeshow and expo, Southern Exposure. A companion fall gathering was more of a fill-in to keep people in touch.

Wow how things have changed. With a new focus on organics and foodservice and a tradeshow component added to the agenda, the rebranded SEPC Southern Innovations tradeshow has become a growing powerhouse in its own right.

The Southeast Produce Council Southern Innovations Organics and Foodservice Expo will happen Sept. 6–8 at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville, TN. For the first time ever, the event will be broadcast live in part on national television on the RFD-TV Network Thursday and Friday.

“The good thing is there is not a break any more — we’re staying busy and it keeps us going year-round now. It’s a great thing,” says SEPC President and CEO David Sherrod. “To be honest with you, it gets a little hectic sometimes.”

Southern Innovations still trails its spring cousin in size, but its impact has grown dramatically. This year, U.S. Undersecretary of Agriculture Greg Ibach will be on the agenda discussing ramifications of the US/Mexico Trade Agreement and other issues, and the keynote speaker will be legendary football coach Steve Spurrier.

Legendary college football coach Steve Spurrier will provide the keynote address

“It doesn’t matter the size of the show – to put on a quality show you’re going to spend as much time if you’ve got 400 people there or 2000 people there and I think that’s a testament to us: We know what our people have come to expect,” Sherrod says.

There will also be timely workshops and networking events, as well as the women-only Southern Roots reception featuring industry tech and marketing expert Dan’l Mackey Almy.

‘Not A Lot Of Fluff’

Educational sessions on organic menu creation for foodservice and organic merchandising will feature industry experts and be moderated by Supermarket Guru Phil Lempert.

Lempert

“It’s going to be good sound advice from these experts, not a lot of fluff,” Sherrod says. We’re excited about the content and the down to earth approach – all of these topics are going to be things you can carry away and use back whatever side of the supply chain you’re on. We’re really looking at things that can be applied, not just sitting there getting talked about but everyday things people can use in their business when they go back to their jobs.”

To keep track of it all, be sure to download the Southern Innovations app before you head to Nashville.

Preparations for Southern Innovations have become as complex and demanding as those for Southern Exposure – that’s part of the price of success.

Sherrod

“There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes,” Sherrod says. “We’ve got a great staff, I’m proud of that, but we also have some of the best volunteers who are passionate about the Council and it shows. Those are some of the things that set us apart from the rest of the industry, our people are passionate about the SEPC and it goes a long way.

“You can see it when people have a vested interest in what they’re doing and coming to. It’s not just a feel-good thing, they know that there’s deep concern and passion for people and that’s the main focus: the people – it’s about the relationships and what comes out of that. There are a lot of things we can do to go through all the motions and make sure the program is good, but there is always that part of SEPC that will never be defined by the process because it’s a very deep concern and passion for people and it’s always going to be there.”

Focus On Organics, Foodservice Were Key

Southern Innovations found its stride when the focal points or organics and foodservice were added to the program. Sherrod says adding those to the agenda last year was a no-brainer due to a lack of access to such programs in the Southeastern U.S.

“Some of the options for foodservice or organic shows have not been in the Southeast — now we have an event that can accommodate both sectors of the business,” he says. “We’re growing just like we did Southern Exposure at a measured rate — we’re not trying to get too big, too fast. We could be bigger. But we’re going to use the same formula that made Southern Exposure the show it is measured growth is the best way to go.

“We might not be the biggest, we don’t want to be the biggest. We want to be the best at what we do and give our best – that’s more important.”

The most important component of the SEPC are the volunteers who make it go and the membership that makes it thrive.

Not A Business Model — A Way Of Life

“It’s the foundation of what makes us what we are,” Sherrod explains. “People can ask me, ‘Hey what makes the SEPC such a great show or such a great event or such a great organization?’ They can ask me that but in the end all I can say basically is that the people tell us it’s great – it doesn’t matter what I say, you have to experience that. When people come in, it’s like warm cookies from an oven, we make you feel like that. People want to be there, they want to be part of our events, they want to be part of it.

Unlike many industry organizations SEPC isnot afraid to wear its faith on its sleeve, either.

“We know what drives this and it comes from above and we know that and we respect that and we give Him all the glory for it,” Sherrod proclaims. “All of that is part of what you’re born with down where we’re from, but we’re eager to share that with everybody else in the world. We’re not trying to take ownership of it and keep people out I tell you that – we want to share what makes us who we are.

“Something I’ve learned the older I get is that to be number 1 at anything, you’ve got to put yourself in the number 2 spot. That’s a good way to be, always put others ahead of your own needs. I think we exemplify that. Our events lend themselves to a more family oriented atmosphere and we fall into that fellowship of family – even competitors feel more comfortable around each other. We’ve always said people come to our events because their customers are there and go to other events because their competitors are there. It’s not just a business model, it’s a way of life.”

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