Remembering Brian Sharoff

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Remembering Brian Sharoff

By Seth Mendelson and Dan Ochwat - 06/10/2020

He was more than the president of the Private Label Manufacturers Association. He was the face of private label.

For nearly four decades, Brian Sharoff led the PLMA organization, growing it to its bedrock status today, a cornerstone of the industry for networking, education and, even, television news. Sharoff died May 23 after a brief illness.

Sharoff oversaw the Private Label Trade Show in Chicago, which began in 1980, and under his leadership saw it grow from an event with around 50 exhibitor booths to one with 3,000 booths, thousands more in attendees, educational sessions and more. He also steered the association globally, expanding offices into Amsterdam and Shanghai, and seeing the annual World of Private Label International Trade Show grow to represent manufacturers from nearly 75 countries.

Sharoff’s own connections ran deep over his tenure leading the PLMA, from manufacturers to retailers to consultants and the international community. To fittingly remember a legend, Store Brands called upon them to share stories. Here are some of the many responses we received:

(Click here to read this story in the digital edition of the June issue.)

LISA MANZOLINE, DIRECTOR OF SALES, REYNOLDS CONSUMER PRODUCTS
Brian Sharoff’s leadership and influence has had a profound impact on the private label industry. Under Brian’s incredible vision, the PLMA has grown to become a vital and essential resource for retailers and suppliers around the globe. I had the pleasure to get to know Brian over the last decade through PLMA events and more recently while serving on the PLMA board of directors.

Some of my favorite memories of Brian are the lively conversations that took place over business dinners. At many of those occasions, I was lucky enough to sit alongside Brian. We would discuss our shared passions of travel, food and wine. Brian was incredibly engaging and welcoming to all, which was the key to his successful leadership. A favorite memory was during a recent trip to the Amsterdam International Trade Show. When Brian discovered my college age daughter was traveling with me, he insisted that she join us for dinner. His kindness and generosity extended well beyond the invitation. During dinner, Brian ensured she was included in the conversation, even entrusting her to select the wine for the evening. Brian had a special way of welcoming you into the PLMA family, and I will never forget this kind, intelligent and truly visionary man. Rest in peace, my friend.

Sharoff with Cota at the Private Label Hall of Fame ceremony

NANCY COTA, VICE PRESIDENT OF OWN BRANDS, ALBERTSONS
I was so very sad to hear about the passing of Brian Sharoff; however, his laugh and smile will be with us forever. Brian believed in private brands before most of the world did and should be celebrated for his huge contribution he made to our industry. He had passion for manufacturers and retailers to win together. We always enjoyed his great sense of humor when at the podium and watching him having a blast out on the dance floor. His contributions as a visionary and leader in our industry will forever be remembered.

MARC ROBINSON, VICE PRESIDENT OF TRADE RELATIONSHIPS, GLOBAL TISSUE GROUP
I can only say in my 30-year career in private label that Brian absolutely emulated character, principles, leadership and empathy at the highest level.

Brian was more than just a visionary; his leadership skills has brought the PLMA to where it is today. He continued to look to the future in both technology and when mentoring the St. Joseph Education and intern programs. Brian always reached out to me during board meetings and over the phone to get my opinion and insight on the industry’s future. One of my fondest memories was earlier this year for a board meeting, we had a chance to go out to one of his favorite places — Russ and Daughters in New York City — with my wife Merri, Dane and Linda. It was just a block away from the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side, and Brian knew all about the place and gave us a real detail. I’ll always remember Brian for his brilliance, wit and compassion.

I’ll always remember Brian for his brilliance, wit and compassion.
Marc Robinson , vice president of trade relationships, Global Tissue Group

CLAY DOCKERY, DIVISION VICE PRESIDENT OF CORPORATE BRANDS, MASSIMO ZANETTI
Like so many in this industry, I began my career selling brands. As my career moved toward private brands, I quickly realized that this is the area of our industry where I wanted to spend the balance of my career. One of the key reasons that I developed such an appreciation for private brands was PLMA. And there is no question that PLMA was Brian Sharoff. As my career advanced, and I became involved on the board of directors, I was always amazed at his insight, vision and quick wit. The dedication of the PLMA staff to his leadership was a testament to his genuine value of people. He has left a legacy that is immeasurable.

DEAN ERSTAD, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT OF SALES, SENECA FOODS
Brian’s passing was quite a shock to all of us that knew him personally. What he accomplished at PLMA is nothing short of amazing. He took a small trade organization 40 years ago and built it into one of the largest trade organizations in our industry spanning across three continents. As Brian built PLMA, he created a true family of employees and vendor partners along the way. Over the last few days I have heard much praise, admiration and kind words towards Brian.

Even with all these things said, it really does not capture the true essences of what Brian truly meant to us. Maybe if we put them all together we come close? For me, I will always be grateful to Brian. He was a tremendous mentor and also a good friend. Rest in peace, Brian.

EVAN DOBKINS, DIRECTOR OF SALES, OLD DUTCH MUSTARD
I have had the pleasure of being associated with PLMA for more than 25 years, working on committees and for the past three years as a member of the board of directors. I have to thank Brian Sharoff for recognizing and respecting me as a contributor to PLMA. I will remember Brian as a true renaissance man whose skill set allowed him to build a truly dynamic organization.

He conversed and shared experiences with government leaders, world renowned authors and everyday common men and women alike. His love of the arts and culinary delights were known to all.

I, like hundreds of others, will miss the smile on his face and the humor that was ever present whenever he spoke. He was a very special man. May this industry icon forever rest in peace.

GARY PETERSEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF RETAIL, RED GOLD
Brian Sharoff provided leadership to the private brand industry for almost four decades. His leadership and passion has transmitted on to many within PLMA as well as other private brand industry executives. It is this transfer of knowledge that we all must trust will live on with the new leadership of PLMA. The industry has seen unprecedented growth in the most recent decade and this growth can only continue under new leadership with the same tenacity and passion that Brian brought to the business. Brian will certainly be missed by many, but he certainly will not be forgotten for all the things he has accomplished in the private brand industry under his guidance. From all the employees at Red Gold, our thoughts and prayers are with Brian’s family and all that came to know him as their mentor and friend.

STEVE MORRIS, KARA MIENCIER, PRESIDENT AND COO, PARAMOUNT ROASTERS; SALES EXECUTIVE, PARAMOUNT ROASTERS
Brian Sharoff was an icon to the industry and he will be sorely missed. What Brian accomplished for store brands in his nearly 40 years is not something we will soon forget. His passion was unmatched. We owe much of the success store brands have experienced in that time to PLMA paving the way with their trade shows, conferences and more, which was backed by their fearless leader, Brian. It was so apparent the heartfelt dedication that Brian had for store brands and his intention to keep propelling the industry forward. Having attended so many of the PLMA conferences, Brian’s ability to demand the room’s attention and get us all laughing will certainly be missed. So thank you, Brian, for all that you’ve done for suppliers and retailers alike, and for keeping us all smiling along the way. May you rest in peace knowing the positive impact that you’ve made across the world.

HOWARD KIRSHENBAUM, VICE PRESIDENT OF SALES, TRINITY PLASTICS
Brian was Mr. Private Label. He was the face, eyes and ears of the industry. His loss is a void in my professional and personal lives. Brian built a successful organization promoting private label that will continue on long after his death. Brian’s impact went far beyond the Chicago trade show. There were too many other successful programs to even mention here. Many of these programs were international programs, cementing Brian’s leadership of the private label industry across the world.

I have had the pleasure to work closely with Brian as a member of the PLMA board of directors and a past chair for over 25 years. Nothing happened without consulting Brian first. He had knowledge of everything, yes, literally everything. Brian will be deeply missed.

JOHN SCHAEFER, VICE PRESIDENT OF SALES, ASPEN PRODUCTS
It goes without saying that Brian was a pioneer in the world of private label. The organization speaks for itself. I was always amazed how after 38 years he maintained such a passion for the business and the PLMA organization. It was a pleasure knowing him. His vision, quick wit and larger-than-life personality will be missed.

BOB ANDERSON, FORMERLY VICE PRESIDENT/GENERAL MANAGER OF PRIVATE BRANDS, WALMART, NOW CEO OF STORE BRAND CONSULTING
First, I’d like to pass on my thoughts and prayers to the Sharoff family. To me, Brian was the face, the go to person, when anyone wanted to know anything about store brands. You could always see him on TV representing the PLMA and store brands as the expert. Brian did a great job of pulling manufacturers and retailers together to help build a strong network for communications and education. 

I always loved his roundtable meeting at the PLMA show where he loved to hear new ideas, and I remember suggesting that he should consider taking the PLMA shows to Europe and Asia, and he was excited about it and did it. Brian recognized that it was time for store brands manufacturers and retailers to have a global forum.

I personally have lost a great mentor and friend, as Brian was to many others. I will always miss Brian, but will never forget him or all that he did for all of us.

DOUG BAKER, VICE PRESIDENT, INDUSTRY RELATIONS, FMI – THE FOOD INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION
I came to know Brian as a member of PLMA. To me, Brian was larger than life; he was exuberant, witty and he always had a story to tell. Brian’s passion for creating connections in business and within the industry was best manifested in the programs he built at PLMA that drove deeper experiences between consumers and the private brands we celebrate today in retail. Brian will forever be remembered as an industry icon.

DONALD STUART, MANAGING PARTNER, CADENT CONSULTING GROUP
Our introduction several years ago was through our private label studies which led to PLMA speaking, video and education invitations from Brian. I wanted to provide a few thoughts on Brian as a person and a professional.

  • Brian was a consummate gentleman and ‘the’ global ambassador for all things private label through PLMA;
  • His infectious enthusiasm, energy and drive created results for the organization and its members;
  • Over nearly 40 years, Brian helped private label develop from plain vanilla to a true brand;
  • The box was never a constraint for Brian, he was born to think outside of it;
  • He worked with manufacturers and retailers to seek common ground to grow sales and profitability; and
  • While he was a big man, you could typically hear him before you saw him. 

I will sorely miss Brian, his leadership and his true love of people. PLMA has big shoes to fill.

JIM WISNER, PRESIDENT, WISNER MARKETING
For several years Brian had me trying to locate an Italian restaurant in Chicago that someone had taken him to once before. He recalled there were two elderly ladies who would greet patrons at the door and fuss over making sure they were treated right. We never found it, but that was not what was important to Brian; as long as we kept searching, we would find great places where good food and a good time would follow. I suspect Brian has now found the two elderly ladies, and his being there makes it a better place.

I had the opportunity to engage in many discussions with Brian about emerging changes in the industry. I, of course, always had it all wrong from Brian’s perspective. But Brian’s descriptions of why were always priceless and to be treasured. I will forever miss those debates.

ANTHONY ALOIA, CORPORATE VICE PRESIDENT, PLMA
Brian Sharoff loved history almost as much as he did private label, so I think he’d appreciate and maybe even respond with that familiar, booming laugh as I put his exploits in some context. King Henry VII led the vast expansion of the British Empire, Julius Caesar commandeered the Roman Empire, and Brian Sharoff pioneered and cultivated the global private label industry. Like those earlier leaders, Brian’s brilliance and vision and style are legendary.

Write it down now, Brian Sharoff’s private label empire will endure 40 more years and beyond.
Anthony Aloia , corporate vice president, PLMA

He had a world view. His larger-than-life presence could captivate any room, anywhere. He passionately spoke about store brands and delivered a consistent message on product quality and innovation that provided audiences with tremendous knowledge and inspiration and helped ignite an entire industry.

Over the years, he brought private label to every conceivable market with trade shows in Chicago, Amsterdam and

Shanghai as well as Paris, London, Frankfurt, Brussels, Hong Kong and Japan. Brian created trade missions and programs promoting private label in countries such as Australia, Turkey, India, South Africa, Argentina and Russia, just to name a few.

Retailers in countries near and far responded and welcomed private label to their store shelves. Consumers did the same.

This year marks PLMA’s 40th trade show anniversary. In honor of our dear friend and his gregarious personality that has left us with uncountable lasting memories, the celebration will surely be energetic, loud and colorful. Write it down now, Brian Sharoff’s private label empire will endure 40 more years and beyond.

EDWARD SALZANO, CHAIRMAN, STOREBRANDS USA, PLMA
Brian Sharoff and I met in 1983. I was with Cantisano Foods at that time, marketing a brand of pasta sauce that I co-created. But as I became more involved with the grocery people, I began speaking about private label.

Don Schaevitz told me if I wanted to learn more he would introduce me to the best authority on the subject, Brian Sharoff. Brian and I learned that we had a lot in common:

Brooklyn boys, love for all types of food and drink, old time radio shows, and a strong commitment to family.

Brian and I grew together in the industry — he on the trade association side; me on the manufacturing side. Working closely with him on the board of PLMA, as a member, committee chair and also for two years as chairman of the board, I was able to see firsthand how brilliant a man he was.

Brian was “surprisingly” smart. His wisdom came at you so smoothly and quietly that you didn’t realize that you were being educated.

He was the consummate storyteller. His love for the theater and music gave him the persona of an accomplished performer. Brian asked me to join PLMA in 2013 as chairman of StoreBands USA. During this time our friendship grew to a higher level and my respect for his understanding, knowledge and vision for the private label industry worldwide became perfectly clear. I will miss my friend dearly.

SHARON DAVIS, DIRECTOR, TRADE SHOW SALES & NEW BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT, PLMA
I was hired by Brian in 2007. For the rest of my life I will always think of Brian whenever I use a pencil. No meeting was held without his pencil in hand. 

He was constantly writing down thoughts and conversations and then just as quickly erasing the words to then begin again with more writing and more erasing. Writing and erasing. Writing and erasing until those penciled notes were finally perfect for us to head off with our tasks.

On Brian’s desk sits a bowl with a vast bouquet of equal in length No. 2 pencils, each with their perfectly sharpened tip facing up. He was constantly instilling in me his precision, his conciseness.

Brian created the foundation of a powerful organization. As we move forward, we all recognize that Brian was a pioneer. Today, we stand on his shoulders. I plan to carry on with precision and conciseness. 

JOE AZZINARO, SPECIAL PROJECTS, PLMA
Words fail. There have been so many offered in such wonderful and deserved tributes to my friend and colleague, Brian Sharoff. But the essence of the man is best found, I believe, elsewhere. It’s most instructive to know and understand where he came from. From what soil, make that pavement, he sprang and flourished. He’s in great company, of course. That’s a clue. The same amazing place that gave us so many Nobel laureates, business leaders and religious figures; at least two GOAT pro athletes; physicians, a near handful of U.S. senators; world class artists, playwrights and actors; philanthropists, a couple of pretty good comedians, and at least two or three iconic pop singers. You see, Brian was just another in a long line of talented, ambitious kids from Brooklyn who happened to change the world.

JEFF SCHAEFFER, J. ALLEN SCHAEFFER CO. AND FORMER PRESIDENT, MACFADDEN COMMUNICATIONS
Brian Sharoff was a builder of ideas. He continually broke new ground in his pursuit of new ways for PLMA to serve its constituency. His extraordinary track record as an innovator was built on a visionary view of marketplace dynamics that shaped the future.

I consider Brian to have been one of the best thinkers that I have had the good fortune to collaborate with, and I will certainly miss the stimulation of working with someone of his foresight and determination. His contribution to an entire industry has been remarkable.

MICHAEL TAYLOR, DAYMON, PRESIDENT
Brian has been a well-respected and passionate pillar of the private brand industry. His work leading the PLMA elevated private brand to the place it is today and continued to bring the spotlight to our ever-evolving industry. He will always be remembered as a dedicated pioneer of private brands.

Brian created the foundation of a powerful organization. As we move forward, we all recognize that Brian was a pioneer. Today, we stand on his shoulders. I plan to carry on with precision and conciseness. 
Sharon Davis , director of trade show sales and new business development, PLMA