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SPC celebrates 10th anniversary

by Gordon M. Hochberg | November 16, 2009
BRASELTON, GA -- The Southeast Produce Council celebrated its 10th anniversary the first weekend in November in part by recognizing many of the individuals who have helped make the council a success since it was founded in 1999.

Attendees also heard a presentation by consultant Ronnie De La Cruz, whose keynote address looked at how major events over the past 10 years have affected the council and the produce industry in general as well as some issues that may have an important impact over the next 10 years.

Board meetings, an opening gala party with entertainment by country music star Sammy Kershaw, the annual Ken Lanhardt Memorial Golf Tournament which helps raise money for charity, a sporting clays tournament and the closing president's reception and dinner dance rounded out the weekend for the 250 or so people who came together Nov. 5-7 here at the Chateau Elan Winery & Resort to help the council celebrate its milestone 10th anniversary.

After an informal get-acquainted cocktail party Thursday evening, Nov. 5, Mr. De La Cruz kicked off the conference's agenda the next day with his keynote address.

According to his research, Mr. De La Cruz detailed his list of the 10 most important events to take place over the past 10 years: the growth of the tomato category based on taste and variety; explosive fuel costs; formation of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement; the growth of organics; the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2007 farm bill proposals for specialty crops; the battle of the California Delta Smelt vs. California agriculture; the supposed tomato Salmonella contamination, eventually found to be peppers; the idea that locally grown items have the opportunity to become a permanent source in the supply chain; the presence of Walmart; and the first report of E. coli in spinach on Sept. 14, 2006.

Looking ahead, Mr. De La Cruz mentioned the following as having the potential to affect the produce industry in the coming decade: the harmonization of North American third-party audits and universal standards; labor availability/enforcement and the need to have a comprehensive immigration reform bill; sustainability measures adopted for produce; international adoption of traceability technology; global expansion of businesses and growing affluence in developing countries and middle-class economies; the possibility, even probability, of another major food-safety incident; the next big step in seed development technology; Europe's successful entry into the United States, following Tesco's entry into the Southern California retail market; and the growth of regional associations.

The opening gala party that evening featured country music star Sammy Kershaw, who entertained an appreciative and lively crowd for over two hours.

On Saturday morning, the council held its 10th annual Ken Lanhardt Memorial Golf Tournament, named for one of the council's founders who died within a year of the organization's formation. The team of Tim Meissner of Southern Specialties, Matt Powers of R.S. Hanline and Hurley Neer of Eubanks Produce came in first in the tournament. SPC Executive Director Terry Vorhees won the "closest to the pin" competition when he came within four feet of a tricky 50-foot putt. For non-golfers, the council held a sporting clays tournament, in which Andrew Garrett of Columbia Marketing International came in first.

The president's reception and dinner-dance marked the final event. A slide presentation of photos taken over the past 10 years (and set perfectly to music) started the evening's festivities.

SPC President Tom Page of Supervalu Inc. gave a brief State of the Council address, noting that the council's membership stood at 540 members, up about 32 from last year. "Our goal for next year is 600," he said. Booth sales for the council's annual conference, known as Southern Exposure and set for March 4-6 in Tampa, FL, stood at about 187 and will "max out" at no more than 200. Financially speaking, he added, "Your council is very sound."

Also at the president's dinner dance, Mr. Vorhees introduced many individuals from three areas -- SPC retail and foodservice members, SPC supplier members and others -- who have been instrumental to the growth and success of the council.

As Mr. Vorhees was concluding his remarks, he was surprised, to say the least, when Mr. Page took the microphone from him to announce that in recognition of Mr. Vorhees' long and invaluable service, the council was presenting Mr. Vorhees with something he had long wished for: a cruise to Alaska next summer.

Contacted Monday, Nov. 9, Mr. Vorhees reiterated that he was indeed completely surprised by the gift. "I tell you what, those guys sure threw a surprise into me on Saturday night!" he declared.

Asked what he thought the highlights of the weekend were, he mentioned two in particular. "Two things that I enjoyed, and I think everybody else did - it was a real pleasure for me to be able to recognize all the members over the years and what they've done for us. And then the DVD presentation that we put together - it was perfect." He also noted "what a great show" Sammy Kershaw put on Friday night.

Looking a bit into the future, Mr. Vorhees announced that following a number of board meetings held during this event, the council's 2010 fall conference was set for Savannah, GA, and its 2011 fall conference was set for the Opryland Hotel in Nashville. For 2012, "we're seriously considering" Myrtle Beach, SC, or Charleston, SC, he added.

The council's 2010 Southern Exposure conference and expo has already been set for Tampa, FL, and Mr. Vorhees added that the 2011 conference will be held in Orlando, FL, and that the 2012 conference would probably return to Tampa.

Mr. Vorhees also said that the board had started the process of gathering nominees for its Lifetime Achievement Award (which is co-sponsored by The Produce News), and that the honoree will be announced around the end of this year or the beginning of next year. The presentation will take place at the 2010 Southern Exposure.