Jones Serving as marketing director for the Parma, Idaho-based Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee was not on the list of career goals for Sherise Jones.
An accomplished 12 string guitarist/singer — she began taking lessons when she was 6 years old — Jones envisioned a life on stage.
“I thought I’d be another Linda Ronstadt,” she said. “Then I woke up one day and discovered that was probably not reality, so I moved on.”
The Boise native moved on quickly.
Jones and her brother launched a company that within two years grew from a single office to 11 locations with customers in nine Western states, she said. Fate intervened. The sister/brother duo sold the company after serious health problems put Jones in a coma for five weeks.
“But I bounced back,” Jones said.
In short order, she became an international marketing specialist for the Idaho Department of Agriculture and represented the state’s meat, specialty foods and fresh produce industries. Her assigned territories were Asia and Mexico, she said, and the position forced her to be something of a jack of all trades.
When the Parma, Idaho-based Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee was looking for a marketing director six years ago, Jones threw her hat in the ring. Her selection meant she could focus on one commodity, but it required a cram course in Spanish sweet onions, the committee’s No. 1 commodity. Her instructor, she said, was Candi Fitch, the federal order’s executive director.
Jones learned fast and well.
“Sherise has done great things for the committee,” Fitch said. “She’s very creative, always looking for new marketing ideas.”
That she is a one-person marketing department with no creative staff and no ad agency support is an advantage, Jones said.
“The beauty of what I do is that I’m the total package,” she said. “If I see a need for a retailer to help educate his shoppers, I gather the information, build it, do the creative and make sure it gets in the hands of the retailer and buyers.”
Serving as the committee’s marketing director has given birth to something of a love affair.
“These growers have their hearts and souls in the business, so it’s very easy to bring my efforts to represent them,” she said. “For many of them — the growers and the handlers — onions have been the family business for four generations or more. They’re loaded with integrity in addition to having a great product.”
So strong is the relationship with growers and handlers that Jones relocated her home and home office to Fruitland, Idaho, on the Oregon-Idaho border.
“I’m in the heart of the production area,” she said. “Within a half mile of my office, I’m able to see firsthand how the crops are doing, what techniques the growers are using and how they’re implementing food safety programs.”
The growing popularity of television food programs and websites has helped spread the word about onions, but “there’s more education to be done,” Jones said.
“We can’t assume that because the product is on the shelves that shoppers will buy and use onions,” she said. “We need to make sure that new recipes and nutritional information is out there.”
Educating foodservice operators is equally vital, Jones said.
“It’s important to have that flavor in menu items,” she said. “Not only is it nutritional, but it’s a flavor-adding component so necessary to many items.”
Jones said that while she sees foodservice bouncing back from the recession, the tough times spurred positive changes among operators.
“They have become very creative in terms of their offerings and their pricing,” she said.
The Oregon-Idaho yellow, red and white sweet Spanish onions are shipped nationwide, thanks in part to the area’s cool, dry climate.
“Our onions store so well and deliver well,” Jones said. “They make those long road trips across the country with no trouble.”
Harvesting of the onions normally begins in August and continues through October.
“But because they store and ship so well, we offer quality product into April,” Jones said.
Though she still performs occasionally — and could even fall back on her past experience as master of ceremonies at a comedy club — gone are the yearnings to be an entertainer. Today, her life is onions — and the people who produce them.
“I hope I have many more years representing them,” she said. “It’s wonderful to see new generations taking over these family farms.”