NEW YORK — Growing up as a first-generation Pakastani American, Umaimah Sharwani often ate Pakastani and South Asian focused meals made by her immigrant parents. After moving to New York, Sharwani struggled to re-create her childhood meals and often missed her mother’s home-cooked dishes. With the help of her mother Paro, whom the business is named after, Sharwani started her consumer packaged goods company based on her mother’s cooking expertise.
Paro launched in February 2023 with Tarka oil and ready-to-eat, homestyle South Asian inspired meals that feature lentils, spices, and basmati rice. The meals are ready to eat within 25 to 30 minutes by adding the mixes to boiling water.
“I am Pakastani-American born and raised in Texas and I was always looking for an easier solution to make South Asian food at home,” Sharwani said. “When I moved, I had a really hard time recreating these foods, either it was because of lack of access to the ingredients, or it was a long amount of time to cook it to create a specific dish.”
With the help of her mother, Sharwani was able to start her business.
“My mom created this hack for me, which was creating these little lentil mixes, which is what Paro is,” she said. “You get these lentil spices in a Ziploc bag, which is what my mom did, and she would send that to me, and I would only have to add water and I would have my mom’s home-cooked food.”
Sharwani wanted to provide consumers with comforting, better-for-you, South Asian inspired meals that were easy to prepare.
“My initial idea was always how can we 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 mac and cheese box where everything that you need is inside the box. It’s instant but healthier, more flavorful, more unique and its cultural heritage.”
Sharwani launched her business as direct-to-consumer but is planning to grow into retail and launch on Amazon in the coming years.
“Direct-to-consumer is the primary focus for the first 12 to 18 months and as we grow and discover who the customer is, the best way to speak to them and get feedback on products,” she said. “(But) the long-term plan is to go into retail. We’re in about 60 specialty stores through Faire (Wholesale, Inc.) and the second half of next year the goal is to go more into retail and start pitching to the Whole Foods, Kroger, those types of stores.”
Sharwani said gifting, doubling down on creating multiple formulations, and working with retail partners is their go-to-market strategy.
“The main goal of Paro is how can we get this in as many hands as possible,” she said. “If you take a look at our social, (media) we’ve really helped users take our product and understand how they can apply it in different forms. So, really thinking of it in innovative ways to create this product (Paro) so that users can think of it as a true pantry staple.
“Recipe creation has been another thing by working with different recipe developers. We’ve been doing activations, demos, working with stores to help educate those customers who come in the doors with the product and how best to use it.”
Sharwani is not looking at the average consumer for her product, but through a lens of consumers who shop at specific retailers.
“As 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 to 30 minutes in the kitchen.”
Paro’s second core consumer is the South Asian audience.
“The South Asian customer is always going to be our biggest brand ambassador,” she said. “They know the food, they’ve grown up with it, they validated it as a good solution when you don’t have the luxury of your parents cooking for you.”
Through her brand, Sharwani is aiming to introduce more consumers to lentils.
“This is an opportunity for customers to see lentils as a protein-rich, delicious, primary ingredient,” she said.
Sharwani is hoping her brand becomes the South Asian pantry solution consumers reach for.
“We have a very ambitious vision to launch in new categories with new products, and to continue thinking about the South Asian pantry,” she said. “So, we’re starting with these lentil mixes and continuing to build this family of lentils, rices, and the Tarka (oil). I’d say, starting in 2025, I’m ambitious to go into different categories as well as think about snacks and breads and … all the different ways we can create a pantry staple that honors South Asian flavors in a healthy, more approachable way.”
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