Timely topics of interest to the industry are helping drive attendance for this year’s Southern Exposure educational sessions.

Scheduled for the morning of March 2, the Southern Exposure 2013 retail and foodservice conference and exposition sessions plan to cover labor and packaging design.

The council also added a meeting with food bloggers.

More than 320 people are signed up to attend the “Maintaining the Labor Force: Immigration Reform and How it Affects the Produce Industry” workshop.

Nearly 300 are registered to participate in the second session, “Designing Packaging That Sells,” said Terry Vorhees, the East Ellijay, Ga.-based council’s executive director.

Panelists scheduled to offer insights in the packaging session:

* Bryant Ambelang, chief executive officer and president of NatureSweet Ltd. San Antonio;

* Jim Burt, national vice president of sales for Monterey Mushrooms Inc., Watsonville, Calif.; and

* Kori Tuggle, director of marketing and business development at Ocean Mist Farms, Castroville, Calif.

Heidi McIntyre, managing partner in Full Tilt Marketing LLC, Orlando, Fla., and one of the show’s organizers, said she and Full Tilt partner Melinda Goodman, who is scheduled to moderate the session, worked to assemble a different type of session that seeks to inform attendees on effective packaging design.

“We’re talking about how to define really good packaging and how packaging helps the consumer find the product,” McIntyre said. “We plan to discuss design insights, packaging do’s and don’ts. We’ve never really done a packaging seminar. As packaging has really evolved so much in the industry, we felt it’s time to really focus on it.”

The labor session plans to tackle the touchy issue that’s long bedeviled the produce industry, Vorhees said.

Labor attorney David Stefany, a partner in Allen, Norton and Blue PA, Tampa, Fla., is scheduled to moderate the session. The panelists:

* Craig Regelbrugge, vice president of government relations and research for the American Nursery & Landscape Association, Washington, D.C.;

* Michael Carlton, director of the labor relations division of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, Maitland; and

* Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum.

“On labor, there’s always something in the news about immigration and the challenges that this industry’s faced with,” Vorhees said. “I think it will be a great topic, and from the registrations we’re seeing it will probably be one of the largest attended sessions we have ever had.”

Doug Tannehill, president of Global Perishables Services LLP, Miami, organized the labor session.

New this year is a special event involving food bloggers.

Last year’s food blogging session was successful, and Vorhees said the council saw much interest in the topic and how grower-shippers can work with food bloggers to help influence consumer buying decisions.

Instead of a workshop, the council plans to host an informal reception at 2:30 p.m. on March 1 after retail and foodservice buyers return to the convention hotel from the field tours.

The council plans to host the food bloggers to allow for discussion of the latest produce and food trends, Vorhees said.

“Because there was such an interest level and industry members wanting to talk with bloggers, we wanted to host a roundtable even where food bloggers can talk with industry members,” McIntyre said.

“There will be different topics at each table. They will talk to bloggers about how to get more exposure on the food blogs, what the bloggers are looking for and how they can partner with industry companies to do more.”

Early interest in the event remains high. Vorhees said more than 200 have signed up to participate.