Judging by industry buzz, the Southeast Produce Council’s Southern Exposure 2020 is one of the most highly anticipated shows of the year.

With timing running just after Mardi Gras on Feb. 25, Southern Exposure 2020: Produce on Parade is scheduled for Feb. 27-29 at the Tampa Convention Center.

Southern Exposure is probably the most productive event in the industry for retail and foodservice buyers, said Tim Graas, produce field procurement buyer for Associated Wholesale Grocers, Kansas City, Kan., and SEPC board member. 

Brandon Parker, director of sales for Shuman Farms, Reidsville, Ga., and chairman of the board for the Southeast Produce Council, said Southern Exposure feels like a family reunion.

Parker said David Sherrod, SEPC president and CEO, and his staff create that family atmosphere with the event.

“It is amazing what they do with such a small staff, and David, being the driver of this bus, just continues to amaze all of us,” Parker said.

This year’s event will wow attendees, he said.

Attendance at the show is expected to be close to 2,500 to 2,600, while about 280 exhibitors are anticipated. 

Southern Exposure will draw 550-575 retail and foodservice buyers, Parker said, which is up from just over 500 buyers a year ago.

Looking at the high ratio of buyers to total attendance, Parker said the Southern Exposure event is “simply amazing.”

“We’re just excited to go down and meet with all the industry partners, and meet some new ones as well,” Parker said. 

“The retail and the exhibitor support that we’ve seen so far has been outstanding, and we expect this to be one of the best, if not the best, shows that we have had.”

The theme of the show, Produce on Parade, will be reflected with the Mardi Gras theme and colors purple, green and gold. The event seeks to give participants the inspiration to make a difference in the industry, their companies and communities, Parker said.

The pillars of the show include networking, innovation, education and community outreach. Southern Exposure brings people back year after year and delivers a strong return on investment, he said.

“Obviously going down to Florida during this time of year is always exciting,” Parker said. 

“We are looking forward to the warm weather, that family-reunion-type atmosphere, and a lot of networking opportunities,” he said.

Graas said that the event’s invitation-only Learning, Interaction, & Networking with Key Players in the Supply Chain (LINKS) program offers an educational leadership program that connects grower-shippers with retail and foodservice operators.

“We are firm believers that in order to accomplish our goals, great relationships with our vendors are crucial,” Graas said. 

“Southern Exposure not only affords us the chance to build on those relationships, they take it to the next level with their LINKS program. LINKS allows us to design our own meetings with vendors or have internal meetings, whichever we choose, and this really helps to simplify life back at home with fewer meetings.” 

In addition, he said the Feb. 28 educational sessions offered at Southern Exposure are valuable. 

This year, the education track includes a session on the “Plight of Plastics” about the resistance toward plastic packaging and the alternatives being considered. 

A second session will look at results from the Power of Produce 2020, which will present the results of consumer research gathered by the Food Marketing Institute.

“One other thing we are looking forward to is the educational sessions, especially the Power of Produce where, as retailers and foodservice operators, we gain some insight into shopper trends and consumer data that is very good insight into where we need to put focus going forward into 2020,” Graas said. 

“And from a personal perspective, I am anxious to hear Joe Waters speak about we can all make a difference for others, and I know everyone is excited to hear from the legend Tony Dungy,” he said.

Waters is an author and speaker, and Dungy was a longtime NFL coach.

A complete agenda for the Southern Exposure show is available at bit.ly/SouthernExposure2020.

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