Paro sells ready-to-eat meals from South Asia

Food entrepreneur NEW YORK — Growing up as a first-generation Pakistani American, Umaimah Sharwani often ate Pakistani and South Asian foods prepared by her immigrant parents. After moving to New York, Sharwani struggled to recreate the meals of her childhood and often missed her mother’s home-cooked meals. With the help of her mother Paro, after whom the company is named, Sharwani started her consumer packaged goods business leveraging her mother’s culinary expertise.

Paro launched in February 2023 with Tarka oil and homemade, ready-to-eat South Asian-inspired meals made with lentils, spices and basmati rice. The dishes are ready to eat in 25 to 30 minutes by adding the mixtures to boiling water.

“I’m Pakistani-American, born and raised in Texas, and I’ve always looked for an easier solution to making South Asian food at home,” Sharwani said. “When I moved, I found it very difficult to recreate these foods, either due to lack of access to ingredients or the cooking time required to create a specific dish.”

With the help of her mother, Sharwani was able to start her business.

“My mom created this trick for me, which was to create these little lentil blends, which is what Paro is,” she said. “You get these lentil spices in a Ziploc bag, like my mom did, and she would send it to me, and I would just add water and I would have my mom’s homemade food. mother. »

Sharwani wanted to provide consumers with comforting, healthier meals that were South Asian inspired and easy to prepare.

“My initial idea was always how to create something really simple and repeatable that takes the guesswork out of it,” she said. “I like to think of it (Paro) as the modern version of a box of macaroni and cheese where everything you need is inside the box. It’s instant but healthier, tastier, more unique and more culturally heritage.

Sharwani started her business as direct-to-consumer, but plans to expand into retail and launch on Amazon in the coming years.

“Direct contact with the consumer is the main focus for the first 12 to 18 months and as we grow and find out who the customer is, the best way to talk to them and get product feedback,” she declared. “(But) the long-term plan is to get into retail. We are in about 60 specialty stores through Faire (Wholesale, Inc.) and in the second half of next year the goal is to move more into retail and begin offering products at Whole Foods, Kroger, those type of stores.

Sharwani said that gifting, creating multiple formulations and working with retail partners is their go-to-market strategy.

“Paro’s main goal is how to get this into the hands of as many people as possible,” she said. “If you take a look at our social (media), we’ve really helped people take our product and understand how they can apply it in different forms. So we really thought about that in an innovative way to create this product (Paro) so that users can consider it a true pantry staple.

“Recipe creation was another matter working with different recipe developers. We’ve done activations, demonstrations and worked with stores to help educate customers who walk through the door with the product and how to best use it.

Sharwani doesn’t look at the average consumer for her product, but through the lens of consumers shopping at specific retailers.

“When we think about our customers, we think about who the average American customer is,” she said. “Someone who wants to embrace cooking and new flavors – who wants to cook at home and be healthier, but doesn’t want to spend more than 20-30 minutes in the kitchen.”

The second main consumer of Paro is the South Asian audience.

“The South Asian customer will always be our biggest brand ambassador,” she said. “They know the food, they grew up with it, they validated it as a good solution when you don’t have the luxury of your parents cooking for you.”

Through its brand, Sharwani aims to introduce lentils to more consumers.

“This is an opportunity for customers to consider lentils as a protein-rich and delicious main ingredient,” she said.

Sharwani hopes her brand will become the pantry solution South Asian consumers are looking for.

“We have a very ambitious vision to launch into new categories with new products and continue to think about the South Asian pantry,” she said. “So we start with these lentil blends and continue to build this family of lentils, rice and Tarka (oil). I would say starting in 2025, I have ambitions to tackle different categories and think about snacks, breads and… all the different ways we can create a pantry staple that honors southern flavors -Asian in a healthy and more accessible way. .”

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