Celebrating Women in Ag - Stephanie Stuckey

Celebrating Women in Ag - Stephanie Stuckey

Our Celebrating Women in Ag feature continues with Stephanie Stuckey.

CEO of Stuckey’s Corporation, the iconic roadside stop famous for its pecan candies and souvenirs that her grandfather, W.S. Stuckey, Sr., founded in Eastman, Georgia, in 1937. From her diverse background as a trial lawyer, seven-term Georgia state representative, environmental law firm owner, Director of Sustainability for the City of Atlanta, and Adjunct Professor at the University of Georgia School of Law, Stephanie's journey has been marked by versatility and leadership. In 2019, she assumed the CEO role of Stuckey’s Corporation, propelling the company into new heights. Notably, in 2021, Stuckey’s acquired a pecan shelling and candy plant in Wrens, Georgia, leading to exponential growth in sales of Stuckey’s pecan snacks and sweets nationwide. We're thrilled to engage with this Georgia Grown member about her remarkable life and career trajectory.  

GDA: Tell us about the evolution of Stuckey’s since its establishment in 1937.
Stephanie Stuckey: Stuckey’s was founded by my grandfather, WS Stuckey, Sr., as a roadside pecan stand outside Eastman, Georgia, during the Great Depression. He grew it from those humble origins to dash at its peak – almost 370 stores in 40 states, plus he owned a sign, a painting company, a candy plant, a trucking operation, and a distribution center. But he sold the company, and what followed was decades of outside ownership and, frankly, mismanagement. When I had the unexpected opportunity to buy Stuckey’s in 2019, I realized we had to pivot in order to restore the company to profitability since only a dozen of those original stores were still standing. The company does not own or operate the remaining Stuckey’s locations. So, our revival is based on the pecan snacks and candies that my grandparents made famous over 80 years ago. We purchased a manufacturing facility in Wrens, Georgia, and are now making all the delicious pecans, snacks, and candies that Stuckey’s is known for and selling them to thousands of retailers nationwide. The strategy is working, and we are making a comeback!

GDA: What drew you to join the family business instead of pursuing a different path?
SS: I did pursue a different path! I was not drawn to the family business. I’ve spent more than 30 years as a public servant, first as a public defender practicing law, then as a state representative in the Georgia General Assembly, and most recently as the head of Sustainability for the City Of Atlanta. I had the unexpected opportunity to get into the family business when I was approached about buying Stuckey’s in 2019. It was not what I was looking for in life, but it turned out to be exactly what I needed! I am so delighted to have had the opportunity to revive this wonderful, nostalgic brand and to have built a team that has joined me in this incredible journey to remake Stuckey’s as a pecan snack and candy brand.

GDA: You took over as Stuckey’s CEO in 2019 amid a period of decline. What pivotal changes did you make, and how did they contribute to Stuckey’s resurgence?
SS: The main pivot was to focus on making pecan snacks and candies that we sell to thousands of retailers across the country. I realized that I did not have the resources to buy and renovate the few remaining Stuckey's stores that are still standing. The only way forward was to figure out a way to become profitable while also being true to our historical roots. I think we have accomplished that by focusing on the pecan snacks and candies that my grandparents made famous decades ago. At our core, Stuckey's is still a road-tripping Brand that celebrates the fun and excitement of exploring America by car.

GDA: What do you see as the top two opportunities for enhancing Georgia’s agribusiness sector?
SS: I’ll answer that by focusing on the two ways that I think Stuckey’s can best contribute to agribusiness. First is making delicious pecan snacks and candies that we can sell nationwide. This creates a thriving market for pecans to support our farmers, growers, and processors. We are all interconnected in the agribusiness supply chain, and Stuckey’s is doing its part to make high-quality products accessible to consumers across the country. The second way we support agribusiness is through tourism. Our facility in Wrens, GA, has a retail shop that is open to the public. We are in the process of having murals painted on the side of the candy plant walls that will attract more tourism to Jefferson County, GA, and we’re on the Georgia Agritourism Trail. I’ll throw in a third way that we would love to contribute more to Georgia’s economy in the agriculture sector, and that’s by supporting Future Farmers of America and other organizations by selling our pecans for fundraisers. We can offer our pecans to nonprofit organizations at a discounted rate, and they can resell them to make a profit. It’s ways like this that we can all support one another to grow agribusiness in our state.

GDA: Stuckey’s has been a Georgia Grown member for a long time. What does Georgia Grown mean to you? 
SS: Georgia Grown means being intentional about where your food comes from. It’s more than buying healthy, nutritious food produced by our local farmers. It’s being part of an entire ecosystem that is supportive of one another. I think pecans are uniquely positioned to thrive as part of the Georgia Grown community because Georgia is the number one state for pecan production. In fact, more pecans are grown in our neck of the woods than anywhere else in the world. That’s pretty amazing when you think about it. Georgia farmers supply the world with our homegrown nuts. We’re very proud to be part of that community, and we see our role, in part, as being advocates and champions for Georgia’s farming community to the country and the world.

GDA: Why should Georgia consumers seek Georgia Grown goods at their local grocery store or farmers market? 
SS: When consumers see the Georgia Grown label on a product, they can trust that it was produced locally and supports our economy. I’m a big believer in putting your dollars where your values are. Georgia Grown makes it easy for us to do that. All you need to do is to look for that Georgia Grown label, and you can spend with confidence knowing that your dollars are going right back into our community.

GDA: How do you see the role of women in agriculture evolving in the future, and how can we encourage more women to look for opportunities in the ag industry?
SS: Fortunately, I think we’re getting to a point where your gender is less important. Women have long proved that we are just as confident as men in every sector, including agriculture. I look forward to the day when that’s not part of the conversation anymore. As a female in this industry, though, I see part of my role as being an advocate for other women being part of the Georgia Grown community. I always like to be in conferences where women are featured speakers, women are in leadership, and women are included in the process. That stuff matters, and it is important to be intentional about making sure that the organizations we support reflect the diversity of this rich and wonderful state we live in.

GDA: How does agriculture influence people’s lives in Georgia?
SS: Agriculture is a driving force in George’s economy. In fact, it is the heartbeat of what makes our state. From our local convenience stores to our grocery stores and restaurants to the snacks we enjoy on our Delta airline flights, Georgia Grown products are around us every day. In short, agriculture influences everything.

GDA: What do you enjoy doing in your free time when you’re not working at Stuckey’s?
SS: To be honest, I have very little free time because it takes a lot of hustle to revive a company. But I love to squeeze in free time whenever I can. It’s usually by taking a road trip to a conference or tradeshow. I’ll be sure to get up early so I can work in some time in my schedule to pull over and enjoy the lunchbox museum or the world’s largest peanut, which is in Ashburn, GA, by the way, & totally worth a detour. While you’re at the world’s largest peanut, be sure to stop by Carroll’s Mart next door - they carry Stuckey’s pecan snacks and candies.