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Crowds, presentations and expo highlight Southern Exposure 2017

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ORLANDO, FL — The Southeast Produce Council saw big crowds, heard presentations by exciting speakers and held a dynamic expo at Southern Exposure 2017, its annual conference and expo, held March 9-11 at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort, here.

The event kicked off with the Tom Page Golf Classic, which took place Thursday, March 9, at Disney's Magnolia & Palms Golf Course. The winning team on the Magnolia course consisted of Doug Johnson of Robinson Fresh, John Carragliano and Keith Dreier of Chiquita, Steve Schwager of Chiquita and Mark Hilton of Harris-Teeter; the winning team on the Palm course consisted of Bobby Barton of Jim Rash Inc., Kellen Copeland of Southern Valley, Tomas Gonzalez of Walmart Stores Inc., Ron Conrad and Mike Accetturo of Rainier and Dug Schwalls of Southern Valley.

The STEP-UPP and STARS dinner was held that evening at EPCOT.

Three well-attended workshops took place Friday morning, and in the afternoon, Alison Levine, team captain of the first American Women's Everest Expedition, addressed the Southern Roots luncheon. Southern Roots is the council's leadership program for women in produce.

The opening gala of Southern Exposure 2017, whose theme was The Magic of Produce, dazzled attendees with acrobatic performances, great food, wonderful live music and, of course, a magician. sepc4410-5536-600-450-80 SEPC Executive Director David Sherrod, Sheila Carden, who received the Terry Vorhees Lifetime Achievement Award, and Gordon Hochberg of The Produce News. View more photos here.

At Saturday's keynote luncheon, Garry Bergstrom, recently retired from Publix, received the council's 2017 Lifetime Membership Award. Sheila Carden of the National Watermelon Promotion Board — and the first woman to serve on the SEPC board of directors — received the Terry Vorhees Lifetime Achievement Award. Willie Robertson, chief executive officer and resident prankster of Duck Commander, delivered the keynote address.

The main event Saturday afternoon was, of course, the expo, which saw 283 exhibitors from around the United States and beyond showcasing the latest trends in produce.

The event concluded with the Gator Moon Beach Party that evening.

SEPC Executive Director David Sherrod was very gratified with Southern Exposure 2017.

"We had total attendance of 2,565 people, and the retail-foodservice segment was over 500," he told The Produce News Monday, March 13. "Those are great numbers."

He said that he had already received so many comments and e-mails from attendees and exhibitors saying "how happy they were at the excitement they saw on the show floor," adding, "The retailers and foodservice people all felt there was a good opportunity to talk to the exhibitors."

The wider-than-usual aisles on the trade show floor expedited the flow of traffic, a fact that many people had also commented to Sherrod. "We felt that all the elements came together," he declared.

Exhibitors were just as enthusiastic about the event.

Dan Wohlford, national marketing representative at Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers, saw "a lot of traffic coming through the show," adding, "It's been a really good venue for us. There are a lot of retailers, and people are taking the time to stop. That's just what this show is all about."

Harold Sbrocco, president of Sbrocco International, said, "There are a lot of buyers and sellers here. It sets up really great for business in a really pleasurable environment. I love this show."

Paul Auerbach, president of Maurice A. Auerbach Inc., said that Southern Exposure "is always a good show. There's a good cross section of customers from different sectors of the industry. And there's a really friendly atmosphere."

Ronnie Mercer of Wayne E. Bailey Produce Co. said, "I think this is one of the best shows we've ever done. Traffic has been very busy. Time has gone by pretty quick. People seem to be serious about what they're after."

Fred Vandenberg, president of Jac Vandenberg Inc., said, "We think this is a great show. We come every year. It's great to showcase our diverse product line at this time of the year. We love to meet the retailers on their home turf."

Steve Dandrea of Dandrea Produce said, "This show has a unique quality, and the quality is the people who are very warm and friendly. We reacquainted ourselves with our friends in the retail business, and we've been able to present our company to some potential new customers as well. The SEPC show has been a very successful show for Dandrea Produce, which is celebrating our 100th birthday this year."

Kevin Donovan, national sales manager at Phillips Mushroom Farms, called the event "better than ever," adding, "It's very well attended and very well executed. They certainly have the right people here. There's great interaction with customers old and new. Traffic was excellent. There's a lot of information passing back and forth."

For those who like to plan ahead, Southern Exposure 2018 will take March 1-3 in Tampa, FL.

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