SEPC Southern Innovations 2019 Expo Touts Organics and Foodservice Success
- by Anne Allen
NASHVILLE, TN - Nashville is known for many things: country music, honky-tonks, and publishing, of all things. But what it was known for from this September 12-14 was organics and foodservice, and boy, it did not disappoint. We took the temperature of several amazing produce powerhouses and also that of our own boots on the ground at Southeast Produce Council’s (SEPC) Southern Innovations—who helped me understand what made this show one for the books.
With over 800 attendees and 225 industry buyers present, not only was this show ideal for talking business, it was a great place to meet new faces and connect with old ones.
“I think the weekend can best be summed up by a passage quoted by keynote speaker, Steve Robinson,” David Sherrod, SEPC President and CEO, shared with me. “Matthew 5:41 says, ‘And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.’ The SEPC went the extra mile to deliver one of the best networking events ever. Every educational session delivered expert industry input backed by syndicated data. Both Shasta Nelson and Steve Robinson provided key insights and wonderful words to live by in their keynote addresses. In addition, our attendees were treated to a private concert by new country music star, Chris Lane. From start to finish, Southern Innovations topped the charts and we couldn't be more pleased with its great turnout."
On top of putting together an expo that is sure to go down in organics history, SEPC also released a report called Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Organics but Were Afraid to Ask, a valuable data set for those in organic produce.
“Organic produce has been a shining star in a challenged perimeter for several years now,” David continued. “We are encouraged by the study results and see that there is still ample opportunity and consumer interest for organic to drive continued growth for produce for the country, and the Southeast specifically. While organic produce uptake in the Southeast still lags behind that of the rest of the U.S., we are catching up fast with above-average dollar gains of plus-12.3 percent.”
As buyers mingled with those exhibiting, those boots-on-the-ground moments rang true, and highlighted what is so vital about our industry. When it comes down to it, we’re all go-getters, out there trying to provide the best produce possible to the world.
“Southern Innovations provides the perfect opportunity to address two different segments of our industry and address the organic and foodservice buyer and talk specifically to their needs,” Stephanie Hilton, Marketing and Business Development for Tom Lange Company, told me of her experience. “The expo size and conference makeup is perfect for multiple networking opportunities and meaningful conversations. It is a not-to-be missed event.”
Not-to-be missed was the running theme of this event, as showgoers mingled and talked about new innovations, the future of organics, and where our industry fits into ever-changing consumer trends.
“This conference has grown into something really special and unique. I’m leaving inspired by truly innovative discussions and products,” Amanda Keefer, Managing Director of Produce for Kids, expressed to me.
Mike Roberts, Director of Produce Operations for Harps Food Stores, also echoed the importance of this particular show.
“SEPC Southern Innovations is a great show and, although regional, you can meet people and make connections from all regions of the country,” he told me. “Those kinds of opportunities along with the ease of the show format and strong bonds you make at this show truly set it apart!”
Of those 225 buyers, we were lucky to also hear the perspective from one of US Foods’ own top dogs—a treat for a trade journalist such as myself.
“Once again, the SEPC provided a first-class show focused on the needs of the foodservice customer by providing educational and networking opportunities in a relaxed atmosphere!” Frank Swanson, US Foods’ Senior Manager Produce Operations, remarked.
We also tapped Nicole Hulstein, Food Lion’s Category Manager, to hear about the value she finds in this particular show.
"SEPC Southern Innovations continues to prove its relevance to the produce industry. The focus of organics, innovation, and foodservice trends provides the opportunity for continued dialogue of business needs of the current market and the market of tomorrow,” she explained.
It wasn’t all business throughout Southern Innovations—although we know that doing business and having fun is what the produce industry is all about! There was golfing and sporting clay fun to be had, of which several industry vets came out on top.
The winning golf team was comprised of Dug Schwalls, Brandon Parker, John Williams, and Tomas Gonzalez.
1st - Mike Prather, Andy Garrett, Jon Schwalls, Robert James, Seab Temples
2nd - Jordan Kowalski, Spencer Ensley, John Baker, Brad Hansman, Jacqueline Soria
3rd - Quad Whitworth, BJ McCormick, Jimmy Alderman, Eric Frasse, Clark Roper
In addition to these awards, SEPC also handed out the Next Generation Award to Andrew Hare of Vertical Roots, for being an exemplary model of what a next-generation produce leader looks like.
So many exciting things, so little time! As always, stick with AndNowUKnow for the latest details in everything produce industry related.