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Spilling the Southern Sweet Tea: A Q&A With David Sherrod, President and Chief Executive Officer, Southeast Produce Council

Spilling the Southern Sweet Tea: A Q&A With David Sherrod, President and Chief Executive Officer, Southeast Produce Council

When I think of Southern hospitality, I think of iced sweet tea pressed into your hand as you lounge on someone’s porch swing, the whir of cicadas and grass thrumming in the background. It’s something that fills you with a depth of warmth and comfort you didn’t think possible.

When I first attended a produce show hosted by Southeast Produce Council (SEPC), I was struck by this warmth, which has been further fostered by David Sherrod, President and Chief Executive Officer, ever since he began as a member of the council in 1999. It’s something that has set SEPC apart from other associations, earning it a spot as a beloved regional trade show people in the industry look forward to all year long.

Grounded in authenticity, the association’s roots are spreading even further with its latest marketing initiatives. Designed to offer behind-the-scenes insights, the upcoming campaign will give suppliers and buyers alike a chance to see SEPC for what it truly is: a thought leader in the industry.

Guiding me through this journey is none other than David himself, whose vested interest in the council is something I’ve long admired. He’s a hearty mixture of Southern charm and fresh produce
prowess, but don’t let me put too many words in his mouth.

Let’s have David spill the Southern
sweet tea himself.

 


Anne Allen: Southeast Produce Council continues to foster connections in such a genuine and meaningful way in our industry. How do you see this 18–24 month-long marketing campaign as further situating the association as a place for connection and networking?

David Sherrod: The Southeast Produce Council is eager to elevate the level of authentic inspiration and connection we already provide to our industry. Throughout the years, we have been known as the gold standard regarding networking events within the produce industry, and we have set the mark for fostering meaningful relationships that drive success. The purpose of this marketing initiative is to pull back the layers, relaying to the industry that there is so much more to our organization than events.

We have done some preliminary work with our brand messaging and a gap analysis to identify the areas we need to increase awareness. We will be investing in social platform advertising and enhanced email marketing strategies. Of course, we will also continue to ramp up our onsite trade show marketing to convey the message.

We want to show the industry the heart and soul of SEPC with all the benefits of becoming part of our family. Networking, innovation, community, education, and applying fresh and creative approaches to build upon our strong foundation are key for our future and for our members. We want them to experience how we Source Globally but Serve Locally. Through our scholarship programs, leadership initiatives, educational opportunities, and community involvement, we are more than just a trade show.


AA: I think it’s so important to highlight the heart of an organization, and I love learning more about the council. With some of those goals outlined above, where do you see yourself dialing down further?

DS: One of our goals is to create an emotional connection to our vision, mission, and values. Our marketing initiatives will bring value to all of our stakeholders. We want to strengthen our community, ensuring we are effective in sharing all the good we do inclusive of our Southern Exposure and Southern Innovations events.

Our board and volunteer leaders spend an immense amount of time and energy toward bringing our vision to life, and the number of lives we positively impact is amazing. We want all our members to understand the many facets of the council and how their membership value is much bigger than the events we host. We all rise by lifting others, and we intend to keep raising the bar.


AA: David, you’ve been with the council for nearly 25 years now. As you’ve watched it grow, can you think of some defining moments that shaped the association into what it is today?

DS: We’ve had many blessings throughout the years, and some defining moments that come to mind have one thing in common: the incredible people of this organization who are our past, present, and future.

Our Founders’ vision of the council being actualized through so many amazing individuals throughout the years is front and center. Because the vision and mission of the council have been clear and pure in heart, people naturally want to be a part of it. Our volunteer leadership is unparalleled, and the level of contribution and commitment to the council is very unique to SEPC.

“We decided from the beginning to serve as a non-profit organization, so we could operate solely to further the advancement of our industry and community.”

David Sherrod, President and Chief Executive Officer, Southeast Produce Council

We were the first to offer benefit packages to buyers to attend our events. We decided from the beginning to serve as a non-profit organization, so we could operate solely to further the advancement of our industry and community. This includes some of our industry-leading programs such as STARS, STEP-UPP, and Southern Roots, and our charitable partnerships with fellow non-profit organizations through our SEPC Cares initiative.


AA: Southern Exposure is just around the corner, and I, for one, can’t wait to hop back into the friendly networking that is the lifeblood of this event. Can you tell me what we should expect to see at the show?

DS: Southern Exposure: Produce - The Final Frontier is centered around incredible content, world-class speakers, and an extraordinary produce experience. SEPC Chairman of the Board Tim Graas chose Inspiring Innovation Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow as the platform of sustainability and a future-focus on our industry. It’s absolutely aligned with the purpose of our marketing campaigns. We know we have to be freshly innovative and relevant to our future and ensure we’re doing everything we can to provide solutions, awareness, education, and the means to a brighter tomorrow.


A lot of good can be found in the tenets of Southern hospitality: always being there for your neighbor, treating your guests with kindness and respect, and making sure everyone feels at home.

With the latest efforts on behalf of the Southeast Produce Council, my understanding of great hospitality has deepened. I know not all of us are sitting on porch swings during SEPC events, but the tranquility and good ol’ fashioned connection certainly make it feel that way.