Paraoa Bakehouse has for five years been turning out Purebread organic loaves from its Paraparaumu base.
From 300 loaves a week to a few Wellington shops in 1996, Paraoa now sends out loaves in seven different varieties to supermarkets, health food shops and organic retailers from Kaitaia to Invercargill. The man behind Paraoa (pronounced “Pa-Raa-wa”) is Robert Glensor, founder and sole director.
Robert began baking his own bread when he was seventeen, finding favour with family and friends. Later when living in Northland, “Some very good friends within the Yates and Murray families proposed the name which was quite an honour really,” says Robert. It was here that his bread was christened Paraoa O Rapita, meaning Bread of Robert.
He used this indigenous name, but shortened it to Paraoa when he started baking bread commercially, during a time when he couldn’t find suitable full time work.
Robert has had a long-time interest in organic agriculture and “dabbled” with biodynamic principles on his own properties. He incorporated traditional methods from his weekly home baked. It was this method and lifelong interest that he combined to create the commercial venture which involved mixing dough late in the afternoon, baking early the next morning, and delivering the same day.
“It’s a practice lost in most modern bakeries, where dough is mixed with chemical conditioners, stabilizers and bread improvers before being set into tins where it explodes to an unnaturally large size,” says Robert. “That modern process takes approximately an hour and a half, compared to the traditional Purebread method which takes closer to 12 hours.”
Initially Robert worked 16-18 hour days seven days a week, experimenting without chemicals, and using different processes and systems to get consistent quality loaves.
“Being a living dough, timing and temperature are critical factors for the consistency of the bread,” says Robert. “Subtle production changes are required to accommodate summer and winter temperatures as well as high and low humidity variations. After much trial, error and success we now have systems in place to take some of the guess work out of the procedure.
“Initially I was subleasing a local bakery from a highly qualified and skilled baker of the old school, which really is new school in terms of the ancient art of bread production. Although I gained valuable knowledge and learned about commercial bread production, the challenge was to resist some of the well meaning, and usually sensible, advice which was against my original principles and vision of natural organics.”
As demand grew, Robert employed others to help. By December 1997, he had sourced several pieces of antiquated equipment, and leased and fitted out his own bakehouse in Paraparaumu. Since then, further demand has led to a doubling of floor area.
Robert says it’s also been a challenge to get an ongoing supply of consistent organic ingredients. He began using New Zealand wheat, but ran into problems with consistency and supply due mainly to climatic conditions. Now most of his wheat flour comes from Australian organic growers who have a reputation for producing high quality bread flour. The long hot dry periods give a good ripening for strong flour.
“Oats and honey are purchased from South Island suppliers, although organic oats in particular, are often in short supply,” says Robert.
Paraoa Bakehouse carries the Bio-Gro logo on most of its products. Bio-Gro requires a minimum of 95% certified ingredients, and no genetically engineered ingredients. For Robert, the Bio-Gro logo guarantees to the public his products organic authenticity. He says it’s been good working with Bio-Gro, which like Paraoa has had to grow fairly quickly and evolve systems and processes.
As part of Paraoa Bakehouse, Robert now has a very supportive team of six full-time and two part-time workers based in Paraparaumu, as well as a full-time sales rep in Wellington and one part-time in Auckland. This contribution to local employment was recognised earlier this year when Paraoa won the 2001 “ Kapiti Employment Creation Awards” sponsored by Kapiti Rotary and the BNZ.
Staff are now being offered further opportunities to step up to roles of responsibility, allowing Robert to concentrate more on building the business.
“Although we have very few formal qualifications amongst us we now have a team of talented and highly skilled people contributing to our success,” says Robert. “We aim to continue this up skilling process in a more formal way for both personal as well as business growth and development.”
From its origins of baking its trademark oatmeal and honey Purebread, Paraoa has added Full O Grain, Raisin Loaf, Potato Bread, Rye and Rice (wheat free), Rice and Spice (gluten free), and Sourdough Rye (wheat free). There is also a range of other products such as pizza bases, breadcrumbs and granola (and as a cereal fan, I can vouch for the latter – it’s the cinnamon that does it for me). And Robert adds that they have “many, many ideas of further organic products in the future.”