Session tours add to Southern Exposure 2012Educational sessions during this year’s Southern Exposure plan to show industry leaders how they can implement food safety procedures to become compliant with the Produce Traceability Initiative.

Another session attempts to familiarize produce industry people with the importance of food bloggers in influencing shopper behavior.

The Southeast Produce Council’s Southern Exposure 2012 also features field tours to transport retail and foodservice buyers to a Tampa, Fla.-area ocean port and to a leading central Florida strawberry and vegetable growing and packing operation.

Marking what’s expected to be the biggest session turnout ever, Terry Vorhees, the East Ellijay, Ga.-based council’s executive director, said registrations for the sessions are topping 200.

On March 3, Dan Vache, vice president of supply chain management for United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C., is scheduled to moderate the produce traceability session that includes discussion of what grower-shippers can expect from the initiative, how they should prepare for it and costs associated with the program.

Additionally, industry leaders are set to discuss the latest developments in the topic and how grower-shippers can implement the process in their own growing and packing operations.

“There are a lot of conferences that also have workshops on this,” Vorhees said. “We don’t want this to be an overview. There are many people out there that have an interest in learning what has to happen, like what are the deadlines and what I need to do to get this done. If I’m a smaller grower and have hopes of doing business with the bigger retailers, this will show what they need to do from start to finish.”

Vorhees said the council arranged a strong group of presenters to discuss produce traceability.

Heidi McIntyre, of the Orlando-based McIntyre Marketing and executive director of Produce for Kids, is scheduled to moderate a session on how food bloggers are influencing produce consumers.

Vorhees said food bloggers are becoming important.

“This is a topic that’s new and different,” he said. “It adds a little something. We’ve never done this before. The nice thing about having these bloggers is that they will be touring and walking the show floor to interact with our expo’s exhibitors as well.”

The Friday educational field tours constitute a traditional part of the council’s convention.

The tours, scheduled for March 2, are set to take buses of retail and foodservice buyers to view importing and growing and shipping operations.

The first stop is Port Manatee, Fla., on the eastern shore of the Tampa Bay near Palmetto, Fla., to view the import operations of Coral Gables, Fla.-based Del Monte Fresh Produce NA Inc.

The two buses will take the groups to the Duette, Fla., growing and shipping operations of Plant City, Fla.-based Wish Farms. In Duette, participants are set to see strawberry harvesting and cooling as well as Wish Farms’ vegetable production.

The council plans to treat the group to a barbecue lunch that includes strawberry shortcakes for dessert during the Wish Farms visit, Vorhees said.

The two buses are scheduled to leave the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina conference hotel at 8 a.m. and return by no later than 3:15 p.m., Vorhees said.

Though the council included a stop at a Plant City-area strawberry growing and shipping operation in past tours, Vorhees said participants in postconference surveys told the council they wanted more exposure to eastern Hillsborough County’s many strawberry growers.

Many people haven’t visited a port either, Vorhees said. The port visit should also be informative in providing a first-hand view of what happens in the vessel unloading and product cooling process, he said.

Though the council maintains a participant waiting list, the tours remain sold out, Vorhees said.