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The Southeast Produce Council is ready to rock and roll.

The council’s eighth annual Retail and Foodservice Conference & Expo will take place March 3-5 at the Caribe Royale Resort & Conference Center in Orlando, FL, with the theme, Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame.

A record 1,300 people attended last year’s event in Tampa, according to SPC Executive Director Terry Vorhees. “As of today, we’re at 1,100,” Mr. Vorhees told The Produce News Feb. 4, noting that because some companies have downsized or restructured and are keeping on eye on travel budgets, this year’s attendance might not reach last year’s level. This year’s figure “could hit 1,300,” he said, but “I’ll be pleased if we hit the 1,200 mark.”

The trade show, always one of the highlights of the annual conference, is capped at 200 exhibitors in keeping with the wishes of the SPC membership, and has been sold out for some time.

The conference — known commonly as Southern Exposure — will get underway Thursday morning, March 3, with a golf tournament at ChampionsGate Golf Club, about 20 minutes from the hotel. An informal awards dinner will take place immediately following the tournament.

A full day’s events are planned for Friday, March 4, beginning with the popular field tours, hosted this year by DNE World Fruit Sales and Haines City Citrus Growers Association. Haines City CGA is an 80-member growers cooperative which harvests over 7,000 acres of fruit; DNE is the co-op’s exclusive sales agent.

The tours will leave from the hotel at 8 a.m. The first stop will be the Haines City CGA packing facilities and groves. After this, the group will leave for the University of Florida’s Citrus Research & Education Center, where a barbeque lunch will be served.

Peter Chaires, executive director at New Varieties Development & Management Corp. and director of business development at Florida Citrus Packers, will speak on what the industry can expect to see in new Florida citrus varieties in the near future.Mercy Olmstead will also speak on the Florida peach crop. Those in attendance will hear about the Florida peach season, varieties and the volume that can be expected for 2011. Dr. Olmstead is a stone fruit extension specialist in horticultural sciences, based in Gainesville. Her statewide responsibilities include stone fruit and viticulture extension and research to address key production issues in peaches, nectarines, plums and grapes.

The tours are expected to return to the hotel around 2 p.m.

The Produce for Kids reception will take place from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m., and the Sponsors VIP reception will take place from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.

The day’s events will conclude with the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Gala Opening Party. The council will be bringing back DJ2nd Nature for the music and video production. Brett (DJ2nd Nature) will be counting down the hits from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees, starting with the first inductees in 1986 and running through 2011. The evening will start at 7 p.m., and DJ2nd Nature will start at 8 p.m. The council’s web site suggests, “Be sure to dress to reflect any type of rock & roll music over the past 50 years. Remember the poodle skirts and bobby sox for the ‘50s? Are you a child of the ‘60s? Think psychedelic, tie dye, the British rock invasion. Was disco your thing? Also consider dressing as some of the musicians and bands who have been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.”

On Saturday, March 5, there will be two workshops.

The first, from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., will focus on Winning with New Items, presented by Don Goodwin, president of Golden Sun Marketing. Mr. Goodwin is a 30-year veteran of the produce industry with expertise in retail marketing and brand management. From his early days in retail management to leadership ranks at major retailers, he gained experience in retail, procurement, wholesale, marketing and merchandising that affords him a unique and well-rounded insight that helped him set out on his own and launch Golden Sun Marketing.

The second workshop, from 9:45 a.m. to 11:15 a.m., will focus on Social Media: Engaging Your Target Market, presented by John Avola, a social media strategist, focused on consumer engagement, influence and measurement. He thrives on building relationships and helping others understand the power of social media marketing. As marketing and Internet development manager for Produce for Kids, he implemented a complete web site redesign last spring that increased web site visits to 60,000 from 10,000.

The keynote luncheon will take place from 11:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. Tommy Irvin, who served as Georgia’s commissioner of agriculture from 1969 until his retirement Jan. 1, 2011, will receive the Southeast Produce Council’s Lifetime Achievement Award, which is co-sponsored by The Produce News.

The 10 members of the inaugural class of the council’s Southeast Training Education Program for Upcoming Produce Professionals will be introduced at the luncheon. This program, commonly known as Step-Up, is spearheaded by Steve Williams of Sweetbay Supermarkets and Faye Westfall of DiMare Fresh Tampa.

Gary Black, who was elected this past November as Georgia’s 16th commissioner of agriculture, will deliver the keynote address.Following this, the expo will take place from 1:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.

The closing farewell reception, from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., will conclude the 2011 event.