“Once upon a time…” There’s something enchanting about a story that begins with those words. We know what follows will be an inspiring tale that unfolds like a journey – and makes one want to go along too. The story of Paarman Foods is just such a journey. And like all good stories it combines the best of life’s ingredients –humble beginnings, dogged perseverance, a tireless dedication to exceptional quality and an inherent passion for good food and enriching people’s lives by making cooking and eating a more pleasurable, healthy experience. It’s the progress – the challenges encountered and overcome along the way, the experiences and the people – that make this journey so rewarding.
In 1982, Ina left behind her lecturing career to start a cookery school in the family’s converted garage. The business got off to a slow start as people were not accustomed to paying to learn how to cook and Ina did not have a budget for advertising, and so her teenage sons were dispatched on their bicycles through the neighbourhood to drop homemade flyers into people’s post boxes. But 7 years later, the school was hugely popular and Ina’s younger son, Graham, had finished a business degree and was about to do his chartered accountancy exam. He knew it was not the life he wanted, though. ‘Graham said to me, “Why don’t we go into business together? You can cook, and I can count!” recalls Ina.
From those early days in a garage a generation ago, this small, but highly respected cookery school morphed into a fledgling food-manufacturing business. Ina, her husband Ted and Graham started the business with the proceeds from Ina’s self-published cookbook “Cook with Ina Paarman”, aided by Ted’s uncharacteristically bold decision to invest his hard-earned retirement savings into this start-up venture, despite his inherent aversion to risk taking. Thanks to his foresight and courage in entrusting his financial future to the relative inexperience of his determined wife and youthfully idealistic son, this seed capital enabled Paarman Foods to embark on a truly remarkable and uplifting South African journey.
The ensuing 25 years have seen this embryonic business transform itself into a household brand with an enviable reputation, now exporting to more than 32 countries around the globe.
Despite the increase in the scale and scope of operations over the years, the underlying passion for creating top-quality, innovative products has not diminished. If anything, it has intensified. Uncompromising commitment to exceptional quality, integrity, trust and consistency are the golden threads running through the Paarmans’ story.
Time is undeniably the most precious resource today, and for this reason their customers demand convenience – but not at the expense of taste, flavour and health. Having always recognised this, they constantly strive to make food products in the time-honoured, traditional way, using fresh seasonal ingredients that will deliver a full-flavoured authentic taste experience. They enthusiastically embrace the pursuit of flavour by going the extra mile and challenging themselves every day in doing the “difficult stuff well” – be it the slow roasting of vegetables to the unavoidably time-consuming process of producing traditional bone stock reductions to extract maximum flavour and nutrition.
“Although the idea is an ostensibly simple one, the concept of producing food on a large scale that does not taste like it is mass produced is the goal which all of our staff have willingly and enthusiastically embraced with a certain missionary zeal,” says Graham Paarman. In essence, this means recreating all the goodness and wholesomeness of home-style cooking in an internationally accredited FSSC22000, high-tech food processing facility. “We are constantly improving our products,” says Graham. “We never want to become complacent and feel we’ve ‘arrived’.” Homespun, delicious stocks, sauces and spices are the lifeblood of the Ina Paarman brand. It is what a good home cook could do in their own kitchen if they had the time, but on a larger scale.
Today, more than two decades later, the Paarmans sometimes feel as if their journey has only just begun. They are consumed, more so than ever, with realising their dream of enriching and adding immeasurably to the quality of people’s lives by enhancing their joy of cooking and eating – be they kitchen novices, enthusiastic home cooks or experienced chefs. The entire extended Paarman Foods family are proud of what they do and are dedicated to providing their customers with products they know they will enjoy.
“To understand what Paarman Foods is all about, one has to believe in dreams, the amazing spirit when experiences are shared and the positive energy that’s unleashed when people embrace a cause they wholeheartedly endorse and believe in”. ~Ina Paarman.
Please tell us a little more about yourself and your journey so far.
I trained as a home economics teacher. Worked in London for a year and traveled in Europe and Scandinavia, where I had the opportunity to experience different cuisines. When I came home, this work and travel opportunity gave me a much better appreciation of our excellent quality local ingredients and well developed “good food” culture in South Africa.
What is it that you are passionate about?
I am passionate about food that not only looks and tastes good but is also good to put into your body. I believe good health is the most valuable possession anyone can have.
Who or What has been the biggest influence in your life and why?
A grandmother who taught me to smell and taste as a child. Formal training gave me a passion for technique and the science behind food. Working as a Home Economics teacher has given me the experience to understand “how and why” and has taught me how to get the message across in a simple and understandable way. My mother was my business mentor.
What is your personal “motto”?
Persevere and tap into the support of a great family team, total focus, hard work and discipline. There is also an enormous amount of satisfaction in creating meaningful work for many other people.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Spend less time worrying and get down to solving the problem as soon as possible.
Who or what is your inspiration and why?
The old-fashioned way of running the business is the only way we know. We are passionate about quality. There is a gap in the market for honest, home-style products because most people are “time poor” but still want to eat healthy, delicious food prepared with less fuss at home. We only use the best ingredients and train our staff well. It takes time, a long time, to build a business and this responsibility will erode your private time.
Your favourite daily affirmation?
“Uithou en aanhou!”
Your favourite quote:
“Nothing is easy! If it was, everybody would be doing it!”
Which book are you reading now?
- Jerusalem, a great cookery book written by Sami Tamimi.
- The House of Gucci by Sara Gay Forden.
- The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker.
Which book can you read over and over again?
Anna Karenina by Leo Talstoy
One piece of (general) advice that you’d like to share…
Surround yourself with capable people!
Is there anything that Xtraordinary Women can do to assist you on your journey?
Xtraordinary women can help a great deal in “spreading the word” in other words, the values that we hold dear and have built our business on.