Woman of the Year: Sharon Kuncl

Sharon Kuncl set a goal for herself early in her career, soon after joining Naperville, Ill.-based Eby-Brown after college: to become a vice president. In 2002, she fulfilled that goal and is currently vice president of merchandising, foodservice for the company.

“Early on in my career, I set that as a personal goal for myself,” she told CSNews, noting that it is one of the things she is most proud of so far in her career.

Kuncl started out as a sales trainee, which meant occupying different positions to learn all about the company, from the warehouse and retail stores to the accounts payable department. She also held the role of national account manager, where she was in charge of one retail customer and worked within that customer’s location.

“This gave me an appreciation for what our c-store customers go through on a daily basis, and what as a distributor we were doing or not doing to help them,” she explained.

Around 2000, she left the sales side and moved over to the purchasing side of the business, eventually becoming vice president in charge of foodservice and other categories (foodservice then was not as big of a category as it is now). Today, she is in charge of anything related to foodservice and maximizing the profit within those segments.

Kuncl works with manufacturers to select the items stocked in Eby-Brown’s distribution facilities, as well as on promotional funding, product selection, and creating and implementing programs for retailers.

She’s implemented a number of private-label foodservice programs, including Aroma Bay Café, a comprehensive hot beverage program; Savory Corner Café, a category management approach to the roller grill, heat-and-eat and hot-to-go products; and Crisp Acres, which encompasses whole fruit, cut fruit, salads, snack trays and deli salads.

“My favorite thing about my job is change. Although I have [remained] in the vice president of merchandising role with Eby-Brown, foodservice continues to evolve and change, so my job description continues to evolve and change with that,” she noted. “I find it is fun and challenging to continue to produce solutions for the customers.”

In addition to her work at Eby-Brown, Kuncl is active in trade organizations, such as UNICO Foodservice, a co-op where she works with an initiative called Pro C that is focused on convenience stores. She also works with United Fresh on behalf of NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing, to help identify what the c-store needs are as an industry and how manufacturers can help with their products and expertise.

Through the years, Kuncl said she’s seen a “significant” change in the role women play in the industry — both in the number of women involved and the number in leadership positions. Each year, these numbers have grown, she noted.

“Early on, I would go to industry events and I was pretty much the only woman in the room. It has been refreshing to walk into events and see the number of roles for women increase,” she said. “My advice to other women is be passionate, be engaged, be ambitious and don’t mind being the person who leads the way.”

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