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Nashville hosts 2018 Southern Innovations

NASHVILLE — The Southeast Produce Council held its 2018 Southern Innovations Organics & Foodservice Expo here Sept. 6-8, combining educational seminars, a general session, dynamic speakers and a trade show with social receptions, a dinner-dance and sporting activities — all amidst the vibrant and unique atmosphere of Music City.

"The excitement level this year was really off the charts," David Sherrod, the council's president and chief executive officer, told The Produce News Saturday evening, Sept. 8, during the Ultimate Saturdays in the South Tailgate Experience, the final event on the agenda.SI-5892David Sherrod, president and CEO of the Southeast Produce Council, with Gregory Ibach, under secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Marketing & Regulatory Programs.

"The feedback I'm getting is that Nashville was a great location," he stated. "The traffic at the expo was good. The whole country-and-western theme added a nice flavor to the event. We were able to tap into that Music City vibe. Everything was enhanced by being here."

He continued, "I've heard from so many people who felt that 'family reunion feeling' here, not just a 'conference feel.' We heard that over and over."

Southern Innovations, held at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, officially kicked off Thursday afternoon, Sept. 6, with the Southern Roots reception, featuring a presentation by Dan'l Mackey Almy, president and chief executive officer at DMA Solutions Inc., who spoke about making and maintaining meaningful connections.

Southern Roots is the council's leadership program for women in produce, chaired by SEPC board member Stephanie Hilton of the Tom Lange Co.

SI-5894Steve Spurrier (center), a Heisman Trophy winner in 1966 who went on to play 10 years in the NFL, was a featured speaker at Southern Innovations. He is flanked by SEPC incoming Chairman Steve Pinkston and outgoing Chairman Faye Westfall.The evening was highlighted by the Bash in the Nash opening reception.

On Friday, attendees had an opportunity to learn from and enjoy two educational seminars that focused on the dual themes of Southern Innovations: one on how menus are created, and one on organic produce merchandising.

The general session and keynote luncheon featured a presentation by outgoing Chairman Faye Westfall of DiMare Fresh Tampa, who spoke about the state of the council.

This session also featured two speakers from different fields. Gregory Ibach, under secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Marketing & Regulatory Programs, gave an update on the new trade agreement advancements, the GMO labeling rule, CRISPR gene editing, "trade aid" for farmers and other industry hot topics. Steve Spurrier, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1966, played for 10 years in the National Football League, and was the winningest coach in both Florida and South Carolina football history, spoke on a number of football-related topics and how they could relate to many industries.

SI-5924SEPC outgoing Chairman Faye Westfall was honored Friday evening, Sept. 7, during the Southern Innovations' Roots-N-Boots Dinner Dance. She is flanked by incoming Chairman Steve Pinkston and SEPC President and CEO David Sherrod.The big event in the afternoon was the expo, where 91 exhibitors showcased a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables for the vast number of retail and foodservice buyers walking the trade show floor.

There were many high points — and more than a few heartwarming moments — at the Chairman's Roots-N-Boots Dinner Dance that evening.

Westfall, who chairs the Southeast Training Education Program for Upcoming Produce Professionals, and Sherrod presented the members of the 2018 STEP-UPP class with their graduation certificates.

Sherrod presented Martin Eubanks, who recently retired as assistant commissioner of agriculture after serving more than 32 years in various roles with the South Carolina Department of Agriculture, with the council's 2018 Lifetime Membership Award.

SI-5925Martin Eubanks, who recently retired as assistant commissioner of agriculture after serving more than 32 years in various roles with the South Carolina Department of Agriculture, received the SEPC's 2018 Lifetime Membership Award from SEPC President and CEO David Sherrod Friday evening, Sept. 7, during the Roots-N-Boots Dinner Dance.Westfall and Sherrod recapped the nominees for the second annual Next Generation Award, which is co-sponsored by The Produce News and which honors a young person from the next generation of produce leaders for the industry. Adam Lytch of L&M Cos. Inc., who received the inaugural award last year, presented this year's award to Ross Williams of Titan Farms.

One of the evening's more poignant moments came when Westfall handled the gavel to incoming Chairman Steve Pinkston, concluding her one-year term as chairman of the SEPC board of directors.

"This is a bittersweet moment for me," Westfall told the audience as she (and others) tried to hold back the tears. "I considered not coming up here today so I wouldn't have to pass off this beloved position, but after a year of incredible growth and amazing opportunities, it makes it much easier to transfer the important role of chairman to someone so fitting like Steve Pinkston."

She added, "It has been an incredible honor to lead this organization and to help it continuously strive to its fullest potential. This journey has been filled with incredible people, amazing experiences, lifelong memories and unforgettable opportunities. I will continue to cherish this time I've had with the SEPC and its outstanding members and staff."

SI-5929Ross Williams (right) of Titan Farms received the SEPC's second annual Next Generation Award Friday evening, Sept. 7. The award was presented by Adam Lytch of L&M Cos. Inc., who received the inaugural Next Generation Award at last year's Southern Innovations.Incoming Chairman Pinkston said after taking the gavel for the next 12 months, "Much like in public speaking, [you] always want to be careful about who you follow, and try not to follow someone that is well versed and dynamic. Well, I've got some big shoes to fill, following Faye and the distinguished list of previous presidents and chairs. I will commit to the membership and board of directors that I'll do my very best to ensure the continued success of the SEPC."

And as Sherrod said over the course of Southern Innovations, "Faye is by far one of the biggest cheerleaders of the SEPC. She will never really leave the SEPC. She'll be here forever!"

Sherrod also officially introduced the 2018-19 executive board during the dinner dance: Chairman Steve Pinkston of Sunny Valley International, Vice Chairman Brandon Parker of Shuman Produce, Secretary Harold Paivarinta of Red Sun Farms and Treasurer Raina Nelson of Renaissance Food Group.

The annual Founders Memorial Golf Tournament was held Saturday morning, Sept. 8, where the team of Reggie Griffin of Reggie Griffin Strategies LLC, Mark Hilton of Harris Teeter LLC and Sean Strady of Ventura Foods LLC/Marie's earned the top spot with a score of 13 under par.SI-5937David Sherrod, president and CEO of the Southeast Produce Council, introduced the 2018-19 Executive Board Friday evening, Sept. 7, during the council's Roots-N-Boots Dinner Dance: Chairman Steve Pinkston, Vice Chairman Brandon Parker, Secretary Harold Paivarinta and Treasurer Raina Nelson.

The Produce News spoke to a number of attendees and exhibitors toward the end of Southern Innovations to hear what they thought of the event.

Sabrina Pokomandy, account manager at Highline Mushrooms, said, "It's great to see that it's grown. It's that personal one-on-one time. The retailers are really spending time at all the booths. We're making relationships casually and organically."

Bill Litvin, senior vice president of sales at Giorgio Fresh, said, "The show is going great. This is a great opportunity to talk to retail and foodservice buyers and to focus on organic products, which is very important to Giorgio's future. We have committed to organics and look to enhance our organic sales in both foodservice and retail."

George Wooten, president of Wayne E. Bailey Produce Co., has attended many SEPC events but this was his first time at Southern Innovations. "I've seen a lot of different customers," he said. "The traffic is good, and the location is great. The SEPC shows in general are the best."

Andrew Scott, director of business development at Nickey Gregory Co., said, "I like the roominess of the show. The staff of the Gaylord Opryland is very friendly and accommodating. This is a great venue. We're seeing a lot of our retail and foodservice customers as well as some new ones. A great job by the whole SEPC staff."

Leslie Simmons, vice president at Dave's Specialty Imports Inc., said, "I think it's a good sister show to Southern Exposure. We see the same quality of conversation and level of attention here as at Southern Exposure. People stop and really want to see you and ask what's going on."

Vic Savanello, vice president of produce at The Fresh Market, said, "The SEPC always does a fantastic job with their dinner and parties supporting the show. As usual these events were great networking opportunities. The traffic [at the expo] seemed really good, [and] with my food show hat on I asked a lot of vendors what they thought about the traffic, and they were very pleased." He concluded that Southern Innovations was "absolutely worth the time and commitment. I will return in the future."

The Southeast Produce Council will be returning next year to Nashville as well, as it announced that Southern Innovations 2019 will take place Sept. 12-14, again at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center.