Although Moore’s face graces every one of the company’s 284 products, which he says will bring in more than $110 million in revenue this year, you probably haven’t heard of him. He keeps a surprisingly low profile, preferring that customers stay on a first-name basis. On each Red Mill bag, Moore serves as folksy ambassador, wearing a derby cap, glasses and a bolo. In real life, he adds a red jacket. If Whole Foods sells a latte-fueled dream of healthy ’90s decadence, Bob’s Red Mill peddles a more populist fantasy of prairie days, a manufactured nostalgia.
In reality, Moore is harking back to early-1900s wisdom by pushing whole grains, high fiber and complex carbohydrates. Doing so positioned him ahead of the curve 37 years ago, when he opened his first mill with his wife, Charlee, and two of his three sons, in Redding, Calif. Moore’s Flour Mill, as it was called then, had nine employees.
Today, the “Mill” is an impressive 320,000-square-foot building the company moved to in 2007; it is flanked by silos on the side of a highway in Milwaukie, Ore., about 15 minutes from downtown Portland. Inside are putty-colored Danish-made mills, each fitted with a millstone that grinds whole grains into cornmeal, flax meal, brown rice flour and more.
Though mechanized, the mills are consistent with “slow food” thinking. Moore rejects a faster metal-roller process, which he says heats the products and shortens their shelf lives. “We built these machines,” he says. “The others that existed, they screamed, got hot and went 94 miles per hour. I don’t live my life that way, and I don’t want my food that way.”
His father’s death of a heart attack at age 49 planted the seeds of Moore’s health-consciousness, as did early exposure to his wife’s grandmother’s books, such as “Let’s Get Well” by Adele Davis. “I thought she was a real nut,” he says. “Now I make my living being a nut.”
Moore honed his work ethic as the owner of a gas station in Los Angeles in the 1950s but eventually moved his wife and three sons to the resort town of Mammoth Lakes to escape the L.A. smog, There, his second gas station business failed miserably, and the Moores ended up so broke they had to move the family into an empty rental property owned by their minister.