Ina Paarman’s Kitchen is one of the country’s most recognisable brand names. However, not many people know the story behind the spice, condiment and bakery empire, and even fewer the entrepreneurial journey of its founder, Ina Paarman.
Paarman is a chef and former columnist and magazine food editor. Her start into the culinary world was not a very glamorous one. She started out hosting free cooking classes inside her garage. Her first students were women in her Cape Town neighbourhood.
Word soon began to spread about her cooking skills and she was approached by a Woolworths food director to consult with their culinary team. It wasn’t long before she published her first cookbook, in 1987, on the insistence of her students. Three years later in 1990 she would go on to launch Ina Paarman’s Kitchen.
Paarman shared her story at the recently held 2017 FNB Franchising Leadership Summit. The annual event brings together some of the country’s biggest franchise brands.
This year they featured Rocomamas founder Brian Altriche and Krispy Kreme South Africa’s managing director Gerry Thomas to expand on their ‘secrets’ behind their exponential growth.
On stage, Paarman captured the audience’s attention with her bubbly personality and witty humour. Speaking about her journey Paarman credited their use of high-quality ingredients, stringent processes, and respect for the customer for the success of the brand over the last 30 years.
“Many brands ignore that customers want healthy products and they’re focussed on what they put into their bodies. Customers are not stupid,” she says. “Okay is not good enough. In business, you’re either the best or you can get out. You really need to live quality.”
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The Origins Story
1. Paarman left behind her job as lecturer at the then Cape Peninsula University of Technology to start cookery classes in her home garage. This was not an immediate success, she says, because people were not accustomed to having to pay to learn how to cook and she did not have a budget for advertising, according to the website.
2. Paarman says she had no business or cooking training prior to starting the business, but rather, everything she knows was learnt from family.
“I had the best business training at home. My mom [would] come home from work and she told me office stories, and I learnt more from my mom’s office stories than any MBA degree could possibly teach you. My grandma was a very good cook, and she taught me not about recipes but to smell and taste and the value of quality ingredients.”
Ina starting her cookery school in 1982 (top left),
Ina and her son Graham (top right), Graham with
the factory startup’s first filling machine in 1990
(bottom left), Ina’s first cookbook ‘Cook With Ina
Paarman’ (bottom right).
A Food Queen Is Born
3. Her cooking career really took off when Paarman published her first cookbook in 1987, titled ‘Kook Met Ina Paarman‘ (Cook With Ina Paarman). Today she has published 11 cookbooks in total, including What’s on the Braai?, Supper’s Up!, and Cakes And Desserts.
The Family Behind The Family Business
4. Ina Paarman’s Kitchen is a family-run business. Her son, Graham is the managing director of the business, and Paarman says he was the instigator of the business side of the brand, while she herself focussed on the cooking.
5. The company employs between 200 and 250 people. “Two heads are better than one, and five heads are even better,” Paarman says.
The Spice Business
6. The Ina Paarman’s Kitchen product line includes spices, herbs, sauces, dressings, stocks, and dessert mixes like brownies and cakes.
7. The brand prides itself on using quality ingredients in their products. Paarman says it was initially difficult to get fresh herbs. Now they have commercial farmers who grow loads of fresh herbs for them and make a good living out of it.
8. Woolworths was Ina Paarman’s first retail partner, today the products are distributed in large supermarket chains like Pick n Pay, Checkers SA, and Woolworths, and restaurants like Spur, Nandos and Cape Town Fish Market.
9. Paarman’s first export experience, which was to London, did not turn out as well as they had hoped. In the early 2000’s the company faced challenging times financially and as a result had to stop exporting to the UK. They also had to retrench staff and faced mounting debt. Paarman recalls that there were a lot of offers to buy the business during that period.
The brand bounced back soon after, and today they export their products to more than 30 countries across the globe.
Ina The Teacher
10. The Ina Paarman website features everything from recipes, product ingredients and information about cooking equivalents and conversions, guides on when to choose the best fruits and vegetables, and cooking lessons, and is updated regularly. Paarman ‘blames’ her instinct as a teacher for her passion to teach others.