Keep it short and sweet. The Southern Exposure Produce Conference focuses on that original mantra often taught when it comes to your basic business plans and strategic pitches. This popular event offers an intimate environment that helps form connections and build relationships among a manageable but quality group that make up some of the most integral branches of the produce industry.
While the show has grown from previous years (2016’s show raised the bar from 267 exhibitors to 278) it is more so to meet demand than to increase its stature - a demand that continues to resonate as year-after-year capacity continues to sell out.
"Southern Exposure gives me an opportunity to connect with suppliers on a more comfortable level,” Teri Miller, Produce Category Manager for Food Lion, tells me. “I have the opportunity to know what they have to offer and who they are as a person; for me that is extremely important, understanding the personality of the company and its associate that I'm dealing with.”
Teri also explains that the element of “equality” for all exhibitors - i.e. same booth size, same number of team members - keeps things real in a way she appreciates, without too much ‘pizazz.’ “We save the pizazz for the networking events. It is so much easier to talk to 1,000 people over a three day period than to speak with 20,000. I appreciate the time that I have with those who join in the festivities."
The event is eagerly marked on US Foods’ annual calendar. Frank Swanson, the company’s Category Manager for Fresh Produce, explained to me that the Southern Exposure Conference provides the team with a great opportunity to conduct internal meetings in an atmosphere that is second-to-none. “Also, we are able to spend quality time with our current vendors, and have an opportunity to meet new vendors, in a relaxed, but most professional setting!”
Frank added that the timing of the event is optimal, with the Florida weather putting a smile on the face of everyone attending. “A very classy event that gets better every year, and often overlooked is the SEPC support for the produce industry and the local communities that is second-to-none!”
That setting, which trims things to focus on quality and to truly make it easier for everyone to meet and either connect or reconnect, is what it’s all about. And each year continues to top the last.
"The SEPC Southern Exposure conference is like a good wine, it gets better with age,” Performance Food Group’s Corporate Produce Purchasing Manager, Jeff Tant, said. “I have been attending this annual event for many years and it grows and gets better every year. Very informative, educational, and FUN!"
In the interest of keeping it fun, SEPC sought to bring a splash of summer to 2016’s show. Held in the beginning of March, which still brings the last waves of winter’s chilly weather, attendees and exhibitors get to enjoy the the beaches of the Diplomat Resort & Spa in Hollywood, Florida.
"We have been looking forward to this change of scenery in South Florida,” said David Sherrod, SEPC Executive Director. “The beach provides a great atmosphere for our 'Produce in Paradise' theme and the conference will continue to provide an intimate environment, allowing everyone to form and cultivate one-on-one relationships with their customers and suppliers."
And those one-on-one relationships have resulted into a close-knit community, coming together once a year for more than just building the business, according to Faye Westfall, Sales Manager at DiMare Fresh Tampa and this year’s Conference Chairwoman.
“Southern Exposure is like a big family reunion for us every year,” Faye tells me. “We couldn’t do it without the support of our sponsors and attendees.”
For those who spent the last weeks before spring suffering from the chill and striving to connect through phone calls and road trips, be sure to always keep your calendar open for this event. Because we, like many others who are in on the secret of SEPC, spent them developing meaningful connections while forgetting the cold and stormy winter months.
Ultimately, we leave the choice to you. But really, is it that difficult a decision?