Roberts was looking ahead to the next 12 months with excitement as he takes the helm as chairman of the board.
"I feel very blessed to be the chairman of such a great organization, one I care very, very deeply about," he stated. "Being on the board for seven to eight years and part of the council for 12-plus years — I'm very humbled and looking forward to this next year, looking forward to our platform of 'the unseen heroes' and looking forward to all the great things that the Southeast Produce Council does in between shows. We're much more than just two shows a year."
Referring specifically to Southern Innovations, Roberts stated, "It is really great to see all of our sponsors, all of our attendees, to watch everybody reconnect and network. Just another great show over all."
He is looking forward to working with the rest of the Executive Committee during the next 12 months, "as well as with the SEPC staff, and of course David Sherrod, who guides us all."
The Produce News spoke to some of the exhibitors, who shared their thoughts while the expo was still going on.
Charlie Eagle of Southern Specialties said, "We always enjoy exhibiting at Southeast Produce Council shows, and we're proud to be a longstanding member of the organization. This year as in other years, we get the opportunity to socialize with, spend time with, those people we've been doing business with, and also find opportunities to develop new relationships."
He added, "Our booth has been well attended, and we've had an opportunity to show our entire lineup. We like to bring different members of our staff to become exposed to trade shows and to meet some of their customers — and we've had a great opportunity to do that."
Falon Brawley of Onions 52 said, "The show's going great; the traffic has been wonderful, we're in a wonderful spot here. We love the SEPC shows, they're always very interactive and educational, and you get a lot of takeaways. One of the reasons why we love this show, for Southern Innovations we get to showcase some products that we worked all year to create as far as our marketing and branding."
She added, "One of things that I love about Southern Innovations is, we get to see customers and new faces, and just connect with a lot of people that we don't usually get to see on a day-to-day basis."
Tim Harrington of Stemilt Growers said, "It's been a great show, a great mix of folks from all parts of the country. We had a terrific time last night [at the Opening Reception] and had some great meetings this morning. It's been fast and furious from the start of the show at 1 o'clock and continues to be busy right through now."
He continued, "It's a large enough show to see a lot of really, really great retailers and suppliers alike, and it allows you enough time to have a nice conversation to show your new offerings and what the crop is unfolding like this year. It's a great time to let them know your story and what to expect for the upcoming season."
Asked about the new location, he replied, "It's a great venue, close to airport, easy in and out. The convention center is very clean and modern, easy to get product in and out."
Jesse Capote of J&C Tropicals was "loving the show," adding, "It's intimate, it's personal. The quality of the people is fantastic, but more importantly, it's full of old relationships, a great chance to catch up, show off what's new. So far it's been great. I thought the Opening Reception was well attended, the lunch today was great, and the show in general has been very good."
He continued, "What I like most [about Southern Innovations] is it forces us to pivot and focus on innovation and what we are doing new. A lot of times, if it's just a trade show, you just show up with what you're doing on a regular day-to-day basis. So it's not really pushing you to think out of the box."
Noting that he will be at Southern Exposure in March, Capote stated, "Candidly, and not just because you're interviewing me, I believe that this is the best organization in produce right now. We're biased, we're from the Southeast, but the relationships that we built here over the last 20 years are very deep, and I feel like the retailers get that, and they really enjoy coming here. So I think it's hands-down the best show in the industry right now."
Maclaren Oglesby of Sbrocco International stated, "We've had unbelievable traffic both at the booth and at all the events. We've been able to really discuss with prospective and current customers some of the innovations that they've seen — some things that they like, some that they're curious about. That helps us to make good decisions for the future."
He continued, "This has just been a really good and relaxed environment that is approachable and personable and personal. You're really able to make meaningful connections here."
Asked about the new venue, he stated, "I've had a lot of feedback from all of our partners that are here. The city is clean, it's accessible, it's easy to get in and out. Everything's here in one spot. It's been really well received."
Talking about the council itself, Oglesby stated, "SEPC does a tremendous job. David and his team are top-notch. Every time we come, we have record-setting attendance, but we have continued success [regarding] how personal and how close it is. That's because the team and group are really focused on making this trade show what it is about, and that is the people who are here. So we're thankful to be a part of this, thankful to have the opportunity to see our friends in person, and really grateful that the SEPC stays focused on what makes its edges so sharp."
Cal Parker of L&M Cos. said, "It's been a really good show for us. We've seen some folks that we don't normally get to catch up with." He was seeing "a lot of retail and foodservice partners that are a valuable part of our business." He noted the "intimate setting" of Southern Innovations and said, "You get a lot more one-on-one time, you don't feel like you're in such a hurry."
He added, "I'll be at the Chairman's Dinner Dance tonight, and I'm looking forward to the golf tournament tomorrow. And I think the tailgate event is one of the coolest things at any show in the country. You know the South, we love college football, and to get together in a room full of people pulling for [so many] different schools is just a lot of fun."
The council's next major event is Southern Exposure, and as Sherrod noted, "Now we're looking forward to seeing everybody in Tampa in March. I think it's going to be bigger and better than we've ever seen before. We've already opened registration, and we've seen a big response."
The council's marketing plan declares, "Together, We Grow Higher," Sherrod point out, "and we keep that in mind on everything we do. Everybody's going to be coming together at SE. We want each generation to know that the SEPC is here to support the produce industry."