The Man Behind the Mill

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Bob Moore, founder of Bob’s Red Mill, continues to innovate with whole-grain foods.

When Bob Moore turns 90 in February, he plans to celebrate as he has on many other birthdays—with a party at the Bob’s Red Mill Whole Grain Store in Milwaukie, Oregon.

Typically, hundreds of the public attend, have a piece of cake and wish Moore a happy birthday in person.

The public occasion is a fitting celebration for Moore, founder of Bob’s Red Mill, a leader in providing whole-grain foods since 1978.

Moore has become an icon in the natural foods arena. His avuncular face, now familiar on grocery shelves, smiles serenely from every Bob’s Red Mill package. His trim white beard, flat cap, red vest and bolo tie have a comforting throwback look. And the company’s products—many of them gluten-free—are full of whole-grain deliciousness.

Early on, a mentor advised Moore to put his name and picture on his products to create a personal connection with consumers. “I think it was one of the best things I ever did,” Moore says. “It gave me a notoriety, and it also gave me a sense of responsibility. Once you take on an identification with a major company like this, it makes you stay on your toes.”

Moore has kept that responsibility to his more than 500 employees. Instead of selling Bob’s Red Mill to a large corporation, Moore created an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) in 2010, giving ownership to the employees.

“The people who deserve to have the company are the people who made it successful and that’s the people who work in it,” he says.

Bob's red mill factory
Gluten Free & More’s managing editor, Erica Dermer, on a tour of Bob’s Red Mill facilities,
holding a Bob’s bobblehead.

Whole-Grain Goodness

The company stemmed from Bob’s interest in whole grains and in the ancient art of stone grinding.

“My wife, Charlee, and I both had a wonderful attraction to whole grains,” he says. “Grains are fascinating to me. They are very scriptural and biblical.”

Moore starts every day with a whole-grain breakfast. “I’m very simplistic,” he says. “You can feed me Extra Thick Oats, Steel-Cut Oats, 10-Grain Cereal or 5-Grain Cereal and keep me happy. I have one of these almost every single day.”

Full of energy and determination, Moore sticks to a strict morning routine.

“I get up at 6 o’clock every day, seven days a week,” he says. “On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the first thing I do is throw my bathrobe on, go to the kitchen and plug the coffee in. I toast the coarsest, thickest, whole grain slice of bread I can get. And then I put all-natural peanut butter on the toast as thick as I can.”

“If I don’t do that,” he explains, “I don’t have enough energy to go work out.”

After an hour’s workout at the gym, he comes home, showers, gets dressed and goes to work, where his assistant Nancy Garner prepares an oat cup for him—oat cup being the staff’s shorthand for a single-serving cup of hot cereal, be it classic oatmeal, flavored oatmeal or muesli.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, instead of working out, he goes to morning meetings where “big buckets of wonderful whole grains” are served to the staff, Moore says.

Going Gluten-Free

More than a hundred of Bob’s Red Mill’s 400 products are gluten-free, including the popular Gluten Free 1-to-1 Baking Flour, stone-ground whole-grain gluten-free flours, baking mixes, hot cereals, granola, muesli, seeds and protein powders. But it took a fire to get there.

Shortly after Moore started the business, a group from the Seattle Gluten Intolerance Group came to the Portland area where Bob’s Red Mill is based and asked if the company could separate gluten-free grains from gluten-containing grains.

“I have to admit that at first it was a little bit tough to even think about, because grains were grains to me. And it seemed strange to me that some people couldn’t get along with some of the grains,” Moore says. Because his facilities were small, Moore was not able to create a separate area.

Bob's red mill factory tour
Bob Moore is everywhere! Gluten Free & More’s designer, Oksana Charla, met him at a gluten-free food event in London.

But in 1988, the company’s facility burned down. After the fire, the business relocated into a bigger building. Driven by a desire to provide healthy food for customers, Moore created a separate gluten-free area.

“The second location had a much larger space and it also had several large rooms and an air system that could be kept separate from the rest of the operation,” Moore explains. Over time, the company established an in-house lab to test all of Bob’s Red Mill’s gluten-free products.

About Oats

Oats—one of Bob’s Red Mill mainstays—is a hot button issue. Oats themselves do not contain gluten, but they can be cross-contaminated with gluten-containing grains during the growing and harvesting process.

Although Bob’s Red Mill does not use solely purity-protocol oats (oats grown and processed in a dedicated gluten-free environment), the company says all of its oat suppliers are committed to practices for eliminating the presence of gluten by either avoiding crop rotation with gluten-containing grains or using optical sorting technology to remove grains that contain gluten.

Bob’s Red Mill requires that each lot of oats be tested and confirmed gluten-free before it’s shipped to them. Also, each batch is tested in the company’s quality control laboratory after it arrives from the farm, during production and after products are packaged in the company’s dedicated gluten-free facility.

Healthy Philosophy

The company keeps innovating. Packaging is being converted to recloseable bags that stand up and sport new colors. Popular new individual-serving Oat and Muesli Cups include a variety of organic and gluten-free options. Nutrition snack bars are in the works.

Moore is particularly fond of two new Bob’s Red Mill statements: “Our food is grown, not made” and “Our food comes from farms, not factories.” These philosophies express the essence of the business: providing natural whole-grain foods.

“If we’re going to handle each other’s food, we have a responsibility to each other that we make it as healthy as we can,” he says. “Responsibility and hard work keep me feeling bright and vital. I’m still working to keep this company I love growing every day.”

For more about Bob’s Red Mill, visit the company’s website.

Eve Becker is associate editor of Gluten Free & More magazine.