Southeast Produce Council's Southern Exposure 2019: What Blew Us Away
If you have read our popular series What Blew Us Away, which recaps what’s hot throughout the plethora of industry events we attend, know that this post is going to be different. Typically, these posts—a collective effort by the DMA travel team—provide an overview of our experience and focus heavily on marketing highlights seen at the show. However, I decided to personally cover this event to convey the special nature of what we experienced at last week’s show.
After 24 years of attending produce events, I can tell you that my second visit to the annual Southern Exposure is one of the most special experiences I can remember having at an industry event in a long while. Perhaps it was the milestones they were celebrating, or maybe because it was my second time to attend the show, I was able to fully grasp the sincerity and service-minded nature of the SEPC staff, their Board, and Committee members. Speaking as a new member to SEPC, seeing the full commitment of the membership from sponsorships, embracing of the show theme, and unwavering charitable giving was truly inspirational.
I was blown away to learn that SEPC was celebrating its 20th year as an association (hence the show theme “Produce like it’s 1999”). I had the opportunity to spend time with Al Finch from Florida Classic Growers, who told me a little about the history of SEPC and the first Southern Exposure Expo, which was held in Lakeland, Florida, in 2004. That show included just 60 or so booths, and the staff and board all pitched in to bring the event to life. Fast forward to today: Southern Exposure is one of the premier regional conference and expos and it shows—this year, the booth waitlist exceeded 160!
Fun fact: This year also marked the 5th year of Southern Roots, the women’s session and lunch, which garnered a total attendance of more than 250 (not to mention a waitlist of its own).
While several events in our industry have run their course, so to speak, and are in dire need of revamps and redirection, I would not include SEPC Southern Exposure among that number! The relaxed and meaningful experience this team has been able to create and nurture will keep this show a “must-go” for many years to come. As a result of these successes, though, I do believe that David, the SEPC team and the Board have a significant challenge ahead: they will need to decide “how much bigger” they want the show to become. That, of course, is both a blessing and a curse.
Southern Exposure 2019: Above and Beyond
In so many ways, SEPC went above and beyond to showcase to members, sponsors and attendees. Here are a few highlights about the truly sincere nature of our SEPC experience:
What started in 2014 with a small group of women has grown into a consistently sold-out event! Several of my dear friends serve on the council, so for this reason and others, I would be the first to speak up if I felt the event could be improved in any way—based on my experience last week, this is certifiably not the case. From the hugs at the door, the incredible food and drink provisions, and just those special finishing touches throughout, this event is so special. While this year’s topic was not necessarily “unique,” so to speak, it was so very needed. Shannon Cassidy brought us a warm reminder of the healing power of GRATITUDE, something we all possess (in varying measures, albeit) that provides a way to create deeper, lasting results when we become more intentional and consistent with our practice.
STARS & STEP-UPP Programs
SEPC’s dedication to its membership in the form of recruitment and leadership development was impressive! I was honored to be invited back to speak during the STARS Breakfast to welcome and encourage 14 bright and talented students to join our growing and dynamic industry. STARS, which stands for the Southeast Top Agricultural Recruits Scholarship, is awarded to outstanding students who are agricultural majors in Southeast-based universities.
The SEPC focus doesn’t stop at recruiting talent: they also prioritize subsequent development. I was excited to learn more about the STEP-UPP program, which offers an enriched learning experience for 12 retail and foodservice professionals seeking personal and professional growth.
We have to admit, the Friday night gala was more of a party than we could have anticipated! We were so excited that we actually ended up canceling our dinner reservations to continue the fun with industry colleagues. Kudos to the SEPC event team for putting on a fantastic event full of fun (including BMX biking, acrobats, PRINCE, and more) and excellent music we could really get behind on the dance floor!
At DMA Solutions, we stand at the ready when it comes to supporting a good cause—and lending support to organizations that promote great causes. As new SEPC members, we were thrilled to learn about the SEPC Cares Program. Aligning closely with one of our own passions, the initiative works with non-profit organizations to help educate people of all ages about the benefits of healthy eating and increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. We were blown away by the diversity of the organizations that the program supports, along with generosity of the SEPC members who give to these organizations. During the show, five worthy charities received $25,000! These organizations included:
- Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children
- Society of St. Andrew
- Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta
- Paul Anderson Youth Home
- Palmer Home for Children
The Power of Produce (Retailer panel)
SEPC partners with FMI on research to provide a look at fresh produce through the shoppers eyes. During the conference, the panel discussed the top trends uncovered in the The Power of Produce report. While there are most often good insights from these panels, as a marketer, I often feel there is an elephant in the room not being discussed, namely: who owns the relationship with the shopper? In that vein, when we broached the topic of food safety, I found this slide quite interesting:
The panel discussed the importance of ALL stakeholders having a relationship—and thus, a voice, a means of creating a two-way dialogue—with the shopper. As we have previously discussed on The Core, brands’ ability to communicate with consumers via company website and social media platforms becomes even more important when a crisis hits.
Best of Show Winners & Brands that Leaned into the Show Theme
Coincidence or not, it just so happened that our own stand-out booth picks were announced as winners in the Best of Show contest (great minds, right?)! Each of these booths was in a league all its own when it came to showmanship. A big congratulations is in order to our friends at:
1st Place: Dave's Specialty Imports
2nd Place: Good Foods Group
3rd Place: Mucci Farms and the National Watermelon Board
Other Stand-Out Booths
Our friend Adam Lytch of L&M brought in his very own blast from the past, and we must say he went well beyond the 1999 theme! Believe it or not, he personally built this year’s booth out of cedar wood from the company’s original packing house, which was constructed more than 70 years ago (circa late 1940s).
This booth was particularly interesting in that the RPE team created an open space for visitors while still allowing for the robust display of their product.
We appreciated the messaging that was present on this booth, as it was evident they 1.) know who their shoppers are, and 2.) put them front and center in their trade marketing. This is rarer than it should be—kudos to this group!
SEPC Special Touches
Across the show floor, the SEPC event team offered unique structures that served as show floor markers and extensions of the association’s gratitude to attendees. Each one offered up complimentary refreshments and delicious bites that kept us on the show floor, having no need to leave for food breaks. Thank you, SEPC!
When considering the last 20 years and the growth that this show has experienced over that time, we can only imagine how difficult it must have been to be an underdog in an industry full of “event giants.” As a novice to this particular event, I can say without a doubt that we only wish we had attended sooner in support of this incredible group. We are grateful to be part of SEPC, more than a little proud of our southern colleagues, and completely blown away by the excellence and gratitude displayed at this outstanding show. Many thanks to the entire SEPC team—we will see you in 2020!
Have something else you loved from the show? Leave us a comment below, or tweet to us at @TheCoreBlog!