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TAMPA, FL -- The Southeast Produce Council announced in mid-April the addition of a new education program for upcoming retail and foodservice professionals: the Southeast Training Education Program for Upcoming Professionals, nicknamed STEP-UP.

The objective of the new training program is to provide an enriched learning experience for 12 high-potential retail and foodservice professionals with emphasis on development of strategic business orientation, personal leadership and hands on field experience.

The program will cover the span of eight months and include a combination of industry field tours in various southeastern U.S. growing locations and classroom education on industry topics such as category management, merchandising, consumer trends and leadership management. In addition to the hands-on experience, activities will be paired with SPC events to create additional networking opportunities with industry professionals.

"In keeping with the organization's mission to be the Southeast's premiere resource for produce education and information, we believe this program creates a venue to identify and mentor rising talent on the buying side of the fresh produce business, SPC President Tom Page of Supervalu said in an April 15 press release. "This is critically important to assure the availability of high quality, passionate leaders for our industry's future growth."

The program is expected to kick off next spring at the SPC Southern Exposure 2011 in Orlando, FL, with the first class of participants. Details regarding the application process have not been finalized, but the program will be open to any SPC member in an up-and-coming or junior level retail or foodservice role including produce managers, produce merchandisers, category managers or produce buyers. The application process will require a personal biography, work history, recommendation from company management and a brief essay. It is expected that the application details will be available starting in May and the inaugural class selected by late fall.