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Big crowd expected for SEPC's revised fall event

The Southeast Produce Council's annual fall event has always been well attended, as its mixture of informative speakers, educational workshops, sporting events and entertainment have proven popular year after year.

But with the addition of a trade show and other components, the upcoming iteration is attracting more people than ever to what promises to be an outstanding three-day fall event.D-SherrodDavid Sherrod

The event, now known as the Southern Innovations Organics & Foodservice Expo, will take place Sept. 28-30 at the Westin Hilton Head Island Resort on Hilton Head Island, SC, a new venue for the council's fall event.

Last year's event in Williamsburg, VA, drew 252 people, of which 41 were from the retail-foodservice segment of the industry, according to the council's David Sherrod. But with the excitement of the new trade show, 503 people have registered for the upcoming event, including 119 in the retail-foodservice segment, Sherrod told The Produce News Wednesday, Aug. 23.

"This year's annual conference will offer a taste of true Southern hospitality along with numerous opportunities to experience the SEPC's four pillars: networking, innovation, community and education," Brandon Parker, sales manager at Shuman Produce and who is chairing the 2017 event, noted on the council's website. "Throughout this weekend, we hope to captivate you with our Southern charm and provide abundant opportunities for you to make meaningful connections within our produce industry."

Before the official opening of this year's event, there will be a dinner Wednesday evening, Sept. 27, for the board of directors and those involved with one of the council's premier programs, the Southeast Training Education Program for Upcoming Produce Professionals.

On Thursday, Sept. 28, a retail tour from 8:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. will visit four premier retailers: Publix, Kroger, Whole Foods Market and The Fresh Market.

Southern Roots, the council's leadership program for women in produce, will meet from noon to 2:30 p.m. Southern Roots Chairperson Teri Miller of The Fresh Market will lead a conversation with panelists Sabrina Pokomandy of Highline Mushrooms, Stephanie Hilton of Tom Lange Co., Nicole Hulstein of The Fresh Market and Kelly Dietz of Berry Fresh on the topic, "What Makes A Great Leader? Questions We Should Be Asking."

The Farm to Table Welcome Reception will take place from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. "We're going to really try to highlight the produce on the menu," said Sherrod. "This is going to be a fun time."

The keynote breakfast will kick off events Friday morning, Sept. 29, from 7 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. Daphne Oz, a New York Times best-selling author, public speaker and television host (she has been one of five co-hosts on ABC's popular lifestyle series, The Chew) will deliver the keynote address.

Two educational workshops will take place next.

The first workshop, titled Getting to the Root of Organic Matters, will take place from 10 a.m. to 11:05 a.m. Matt Seeley, co-founder and chief executive officer of the Organic Produce Network, will moderate this workshop. He will be joined by Anne-Marie Roerink, principal at 210 Analytics LLC; Mark Carroll, vice president of merchandising for produce, floral and gift at The Fresh Market; Christian Harris, vice president of produce at U.S. Foods; and David Lessard, vice president of produce at Ahold USA.

The second workshop, titled What's on the Menu for the Future? A Slice into Foodservice Trends and How We Should Prepare for Tomorrow's Consumers' Appetites, will take place from 11:20 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Ronnie De La Cruz, founder of De La Cruz Consulting & Training, will moderate this workshop. He will be joined by panelists Kristen Yerecic, marketing manager for Yerecic Label; Jacquelyn Chi, associate director for the Strategic Initiatives Group at the Culinary Institute of America; and Jeff Tant, corporate produce director for Performance Food Group.

From 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., the organics and foodservice exposition will take place at the Hilton Head Beach & Tennis Convention Center, about a mile from the Westin resort. Sherrod is encouraging all attendees to take the shuttle buses that will run frequently between the resort and the convention center.

[The expo is the only event scheduled at the convention center; all other events will take place at the resort.]

On Friday evening, the President's Dinner Dance will take place from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Outgoing President Teri Miller will address the crowd before passing the gavel to the next leader. The other new officers and directors will also be introduced, and directors who are retiring from the board will be honored.

Also at the dinner dance, Faye Westfall, who is director of sales at DiMare Fresh-Tampa and who heads the STEP-UPP program, will present certificates to the graduates of the current STEP-UPP class. She will be joined by Michael Roberts of Harps Food Stores Inc., who was recently named to co-chair the STEP-UPP program.

A new feature at the dinner dance this year will be the presentation of the Next Generation Award, a new award co-sponsored by the SEPC and The Produce News. This award will be presented annually at the fall event to a member of the council under the age of 35, who has made a significant contribution to his or her own company as well as to the produce industry in general, and who is active in community-related projects that exemplify the core values of the Southeast Produce Council.

On Saturday, the final day of the fall event, in-shore fishing and lunch will take place from 8 a.m. to noon; the Founders Memorial Golf Tournament will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.; and a tour and lunch of the historic town of Bluffton, SC, will take place from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

As always, the fall event will conclude with the Ultimate Tailgate Experience, where attendees may relax and unwind from 3:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.

"We're really excited about this new expo," said Sherrod. "We sold out for this inaugural expo," and there's a waiting list. "But we've already made plans for next year at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville and have a bigger venue."

He added, "It's very promising that this thing has taken off. It's coming together really nicely. The outpouring of retail-foodservice people has just been phenomenal. We know we're headed in the right direction."

Attendees will notice a few changes in the titles of a few executives that will commence with this fall event. In accordance with a recent change in the SEPC by-laws, Sherrod's title of executive director has been changed to president and chief executive officer. On the board of directors, the title of president has been changed to chairman, and the title of vice president has been changed to vice chairman. The titles of secretary and treasurer remain the same.