Top | The Culinate Interview

Bob Moore

(article, Megan Holden)

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p(blue). Since 1978, Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods has been milling whole grains into flour the old-fashioned way, using 2,000-pound millstones to grind more than 400 products. Bob Moore, the president and co-founder of the Oregon-based company, sells Bob’s Red Mill products around the globe, and is a champion of whole grains and healthy eating. His new book is called the Bob's Red Mill Baking Book.

How did you first get started in the grain-milling business?
My wife, Charlee, got us into whole grains because she believed they were better for us. In the 1950s, you couldn’t buy whole-wheat flour in grocery stores  —  only white flour, white bread, and brown bread with caramel coloring. You had to go to a health-food store to get whole grains.

In 1961, I stumbled across a book at the library about a young man restoring his family’s old flour mill. I told Charlee that this is what I wanted to do with my life. So we hit the road, visiting mills in the United States and Britain, looking for possibilities. We eventually opened a small mill in Redding, California, with two of our sons.

What makes stone milling unique?
We take nothing out of the grain. We use flint-hard quartz millstones, many manufactured in France, dating as far back as 1860. The slow-turning stones grind the grain without overheating it. All the valuable nutrients  —  bran, germ, and endosperm  —  remain, leaving you with a healthy, nutritious product made the same way as it was back in Roman times. 

You’ve seen diet fads come and go. What’s popular today?
At one time, wheat bran and oat bran were top sellers. Today, our number-one product is Organic Golden Flaxseed Meal. The seed is grown in Saskatchewan, Canada. We keep three flaxseed mills running continuously. Our most popular cereal is Old-Fashioned Muesli.

[%image moore width=200 float=left caption="Bob Moore" credit="Photo courtesy Bob's Red Mill and Koopman Ostbo"]

Organic grains are a big, and growing, part of our business. I believe in organic food, but we’ve got ourselves in a tight spot trying to grow enough organic food to feed everyone.

The national trend in food manufacturing is toward hiding the whole grains in foods. We are told that whole grain is bad, that kids won’t eat food unless it’s made of devalued white flour, loaded with sugar, and highly processed. My belief is absolutely the opposite of this. 

What about genetically modified grains?
None of Bob’s Red Mill grains are genetically modified.

What are the challenges you face as your business grows?
Grains that are designated by law as allergens, such as wheat and soy, must be separated from other grains. This is a real logistical puzzle. It didn’t used to make any difference; all whole grains were whole grains. But today we are literally separating these allergen-designated grains from the rest. We can’t have any cross-contamination with other grains — for example, corn, rice, oats — unless they are both a part of a grain mixture like 10-Grain Cereal.

At Bob’s, we have five people dedicated to quality control. It’s a real challenge for us to change as fast as the law changes. We’re conscientious and we try hard.

Where did the “Red Mill” name come from?
Out of my head. Over the years, when I traveled around the country looking for millstones, I saw many red mills trimmed in white. One of these days, I told myself, I’m going to have a red mill.

I came up to Portland to attend a seminary (Western Evangelical Seminary). I saw an old wooden flour mill near Oregon City and leased it. As soon as it was mine, I replaced every rotting board and painted it red. I loved that building. It had a rhythm to it when all the mills were running at the same time.

What happened to your original mill?
An arsonist burnt it to the ground in 1988; the only thing the fire department saved were the millstones. The fire changed our lives. We decided if we were going to rebuild, we’d be even bigger. So at 60 years old, we started over with a new, much larger facility.

This was a turning point. Before the fire, we were a regional business with local accounts. In 1989, we went to our first national natural-food-products trade show in Anaheim, California. We had a single booth and brought all of our products to show. We had no brokerage arrangements and no distributors, just good whole-grain foods that attracted a lot of attention.

Today, we’re the largest producer of minimally processed whole grains in the country.

What motivates you?
Entrepreneurs are a special breed. They don’t just make money; that’s not what motivates them. Don’t get me wrong; making money is important. I tell everyone around here that you need to have a little bit left over at the end of every month. We must be profitable to survive in today’s hectic world.

But I look at the question of how to live life profitably in a serious way. I need to do something I believe in. That’s where the grains come in. I didn’t always do this. First, I owned a gas-station business. Then, for many years I operated or managed retail auto centers. I was never happy selling what people didn’t need or could do without.

[%image BobsOats float=left caption="Bob's Red Mill steel-cut oats." credit="Photo courtesy Bob's Red Mill and Koopman Ostbo"]

I’m involved in a business that manufactures products that I profoundly believe in. Whole grains have always been a basic staple of the human diet. You can find grains in the Bible, in fact, in the very first chapter. This is not a religious thing with me. And I’m not a vegetarian, though I’ve gone through spells where I’ve been on those diets. 

We travel all over the world, love to go places, try new things, and to enjoy life. Food is not a sin. Food is something that sustains you. If you eat the right kind of foods, your body functions better.

What advice would you give to someone trying to eat more whole grains?
It’s simple: You need to keep whole grains as a somewhat dominant part of the diet. 

And stay away from empty calories. There is zero redeeming value in most soft drinks; they’re worthless. They jack up the body’s blood-sugar level, only to let it down in a few minutes. Then you crave more “stuff” that elevates it again — more pop, candy, donuts, cigarettes. It’s a never-ending, vicious circle that many of our young folks never get off of.

The manufacturers of these products are continually and subtly keeping pressure on young people. Forty-three percent of kids are overweight and shouldn’t be eating any of it. We should take it off the shelf. Since we can’t, my advice to you is don’t eat it, for your kid’s sake. Be selective.

Studies show fast-food companies are directly responsible for the rising obesity rates in children. Witness the movie “Super Size Me.” Morgan Spurlock probably would have died had he continued with his exclusive McDonald’s diet. Had he done the very same thing on a selective whole-grain diet, his base health would have improved.

Are we addressing the solutions to this problem? The media reports on these problems, but does anyone actually do anything about it? Unfortunately, most of us read the news coverage, then get up the next morning and eat more unhealthy stuff.

I asked myself, what could I do to make a difference? I make food that is healthy. It’s what I believe in and what I do. I’d like to live out my life doing it.

p(bio). Megan Holden writes about books, food, and family in Portland, Oregon.


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