ORLANDO, Fla. — Despite colder-than-normal weather, sellers warmly welcomed retail and foodservice buyers to sunny Florida for the 10th year of Southern Exposure.

Cold weather doesn’t dampen Southern Exposure enthusiasmLabor concerns, packaging innovation insights and a pep talk by a legendary college football coach were some of the highlights of the Feb. 28-March 2 retail and foodservice conference and expo at the Caribe Royal Resort & Conference Center.

Sponsored by the Southeast Produce Council, this year’s show attracted record participation even as the thermostat during the daytime dropped into the low 60s, more than 10 degrees cooler than central Florida’s normal late winter temperatures.

Terry Vorhees, executive director of the East Ellijay, Ga.-based council, said more than 1,600 retailers, foodservice buyers, growers, shippers, wholesalers and others traveled to Orlando.

Cold weather doesn’t dampen Southern Exposure enthusiasm“This is such a great show,” said Rick Feighery, vice president of sales for Procacci Bros. Sales Corp., Philadelphia. “There’s good turnout and the retail support is strong. Everyone takes their time and all the exhibitors are in the same footprint. When we go to such shows, we don’t want to meet the vendors. This show has the retail support we need.”

Lakeland-based Publix Super Markets Inc. was one of the first retailers to walk the trade show floor during the council’s inaugural Southern Exposure in Lakeland in 2004.

Garry Bergstrom, Publix’s business development director of produce and floral, said the show provides retail produce executives the opportunity to visit with smaller suppliers that don’t always exhibit at the larger national shows.

“Every year, this show grows a little,” he said. “The council does a class job and people really enjoy it.”

During March 1 opening day tours, buses transported retail and foodservice buyers to Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc.’s potato, cabbage and broccoli growing and packing operation in East Palatka.

Adam Lytch, operations manager, discussed growing and packing of the 2,800 acres farmed by Larry Corn and his son Brent Corn. L&M partnered with the Corns in 1952.

“We just started harvesting St. Patty’s Day cabbage last week, a little earlier than normal,” Lytch said. “The cold weather we recently had was no problem for the cabbage and broccoli, but the frost got a little potatoes. It should only set them back a week to 10 days.”

Participants also toured Spice World Inc. in Orlando.

Labor concerns took center stage during a March 2 educational session.

“Since we’re so close to the Kennedy Space Center, Houston, we’ve got a problem with the labor supply issue,” said Craig Regelbrugge, vice president of government relations and research for the Washington, D.C.-based American Nursery & Landscape Association. “But we’ve had a problem for years. It’s getting more acute with the state laws mandating E-verify in places like Georgia and Alabama.

“In the Southeast, you don’t have to go too far to talk about states where leaders in the states have passed legislation that shoots agriculture in the foot, if not a more sensitive piece of the anatomy.”

During the March 2 keynote luncheon, former Notre Dame head coach Lou Holtz told attendees they have no chance to succeed if they don’t believe in themselves. He gave them some practical advice they could apply to their businesses.

“You’re not just growing or selling a product,” Holtz said. “You’re to satisfy the needs of your customers and make a profit. There are a lot of changes in the industry. Always embrace change. Peoples’ needs change and businesses don’t always change to meet their customers’ needs.”