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SPC finalizes conference plans

The Southeast Produce Council has announced a number of details " including the selection of a keynoter and workshop speakers as well as the venues for the field tours " for its next retail conference, just about two months away.

The council?s second annual Retail & Foodservice Conference, to be held March 10-12 at the Tampa Bay (FL) Convention Center, will kick off Thursday evening, March 10 with a gala opening reception and dinner at the Radisson Riverwalk Hotel.

The conference has been dubbed "Southern Exposure," a moniker that will also be used for its future annual conferences, according to SPC Executive Director Terry Vorhees.

Field tours from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. the next day will take advantage of Tampa?s proximity to the Plant City/Dover area, known as the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World. According to the council?s web site (www.seproducecouncil.com), Hillsborough County produces about 15 percent of the nation?s strawberries and virtually all the berries grown during the winter. The commodity?s economic impact approaches $200 million.

Dubbed the Very Berry Field Tours, participants will be able to visit the University of Florida?s strawberry laboratory and Gulf Coast Produce.

Since 1963, the university?s Research & Education Center, located in Dover, FL, has paved the way for major advances in strawberry production. Breeding work has resulted in new varieties for the area, many of which are known worldwide. Participants will have the opportunity to tour the production fields, breeding center and laboratory to gain an in-depth knowledge of strawberries.

Gulf Coast Produce supplies strawberries along with a range of premium-quality produce items. The company?s farms are strategically located in central Florida along with additional growing regions in southern Georgia and North Carolina. Under the "Gulf Sweet? brand, Gulf Coast strawberries are available from November to April. Participants will have the opportunity to tour the company?s strawberry-production facilities during the main season.

The expo will take place from 3:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Like last year, food stations will be set up at different spots on the trade show floor for a very relaxed atmosphere as well as to make it easy for people to make the most of their time there, according to Mr. Vorhees.

About 86 exhibitors had reserved space for the expo, Mr. Vorhees told The Produce News Jan. 3. He was hoping to match last year?s figure of 109 exhibitors, and noted that the exposition hall could accommodate about 125.

About 285 people had registered so far for the event, said Mr. Vorhees, who again was optimistic that as the new year progressed, that figure would match or exceed last year?s attendance of 450.

The keynote breakfast will start Saturday?s events with a presentation by author-consultant Harold Lloyd entitled "Why Restaurants Are Winning? What Retailers Can learn to Stay Competitive." Mr. Lloyd?s practical-solution approach to issues facing retail has given him a well-earned reputation as one of the nation?s top retail experts. His book, It's About Time, was written to help those involved in retail find more time to do the things they need to get done.

From 8:45 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., two industry leaders will address attendees.

From the wholesaler-retailer point of view, Supervalu?s Gary Gionnette, corporate vice president of produce and floral, will provide his own unique perspective on the current trends, opportunities and challenges facing the produce industry.

Mr. Gionnette began his career as director of produce for Safeway, where he served for 14 years in both the Eastern and Western divisions. During his 15 years with Supervalu, he served as director of merchandising, vice president of marketing and vice president of category management before he was promoted to his current position. He currently serves on the Produce Marketing Association?s board of directors.

Incidentally, Supervalu will hold its annual spring directors meeting on Thursday, March 10, just prior to the opening of the SPC conference, so a good-sized delegation from this company will be on hand, Mr. Vorhees noted. Headquartered in Eden Prairie, MN, Supervalu is the largest publicly held food wholesaler in the United States, according to its web site. It operates more than 1,500 stores in 40 states, and its 24 distribution centers serve more than 3,200 customer stores.

Stephen Rodrigues, senior director of Sobeys Inc., will review the latest innovation and trends for merchandising from a Canadian point of view. He?ll also address opportunities for suppliers in marketing to Canadian retailers.

Sobeys Inc., headquartered in Stellarton, Nova Scotia, is a leading national grocery retailer and food distributor. The company owns or franchises more than 1,300 stores in all 10 provinces under retail banners that include Sobeys, IGA Extra, IGA and Price Chopper.

From 9:45 a.m. to 11 a.m., Mr. Lloyd will moderate a retailer panel discussion entitled "How Can Suppliers Develop Value-Added Partnerships with Retailers Today?? The four retailers on the panel will be announced shortly, Mr. Vorhees said.

At 11:30 a.m., buses will depart for the Westchase Golf Club in Tampa, which is only a short ride from the convention center, where golfers will be able to enjoy a round of golf.

The conference will conclude with a "Buccaneer Bash Farewell Party? from 7:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.

For general information on the conference, call Mr. Vorhees at 706/276-2313.

Although the Radisson Riverwalk Hotel has been sold out, those wishing to reserve a hotel room should contact the Wyndham Harbour Island Hotel directly at 813/229-5000.

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