Consumers hungry for Bob's Red Mill
Founder invests in rigorous quality control, unique items
By PATTY MAMULA
For the Capital Press
MILWAUKIE, Ore. -- Bob's Red Mill, the company, is nearly inseparable from Bob Moore, the founder.
Moore's picture is on every package of flour and his hand is on daily decisions, from investing in a state-of the-art distribution system to selecting photos for the annual catalog.
At 82, his passion for healthful, whole grain foods is going strong, as reflected in the company's 20 percent annual growth rate for the past 10 years and in the donations of $31.3 million for nutrition research that he and his wife, Charlee, have made to Oregon Health and Science University, Oregon State University and the National College of Natural Medicine.
When the Moores moved to Portland in 1978, Bob planned to study at a seminary.
"I love knowledge," Moore said. He was 49, an experienced entrepreneur who had owned several small businesses, including a mill in Redding, Calif., and he wanted a break.
Plans changed. He and Charlee discovered an abandoned mill in Oregon City that reminded Moore of his favorite book, "John Goffe's Mill," which told the story of how an archeologist with no experience opened a mill. Soon, they were in the milling business.
For the first 10 years, the mill was a small local business that sold products from its store. One night, an arsonist burned down the mill.
"That almost drove him out of business," said Dennis Gilliam, executive vice president, sales and marketing. Gilliam had a printing background and Moore invited him to help put the business back together and to take it nationwide.
"We had one large customer at the time, Fred Meyer," he said.
The turning point came in 1990 when they attended the Anaheim, Calif., natural food products trade show, the largest in the United States.
At the trade show he found a broker, a distributor and their first out-of-state retail customer. Today, they sell their steel-cut oats, cereals, whole grain flours, mixes and gluten-free products across the United States and in 70 countries. Annual sales are estimated at more than $80 million.
"We've been to that trade show every year since," Gilliam said. He said Moore was their best representative. "He is almost single-handedly our public relations."
"Our hope was to reach 20 percent of the population with our products, and we think we're reaching 25 percent. People are getting the message. Because of that, there's been no recession in the whole grain food industry," Gilliam said. "We've been hiring for the past two years."
About four years ago, the company moved to a renovated warehouse one mile down the road from its distinctive red store and restaurant. Now, with a total of 340,000 square feet on more than 7 acres, their space has doubled.
The mill runs 24 hours a day, six days a week. Most grains are stone ground in Danish-made mills that grind about 700 pounds of flour an hour.
Flaxseed, popular for its omega oil, is ground on roller mills at a constant cool temperature that gives the flax a long shelf life and more healthful qualities, Moore said.
Moore loves walking through the plant, listening to the sounds of people and machines. In the gluten-free area, which has added two packing lines in the last year, he points out its total separation from the conventional area. The milling, mixing, packaging and even the heating and ventilation system are entirely separate.
The growth in gluten-free sales, which account for a fourth of overall sales, is at 47 percent for the past few years.
There is also a separate quality control lab for gluten-free products. "Our gluten-free lab is the best in the world," Moore said. Most gluten-free products are tested two, sometimes three, times. Grain is tested when it arrives, when it's packaged, and again if it's mixed.
Since corn often has traces of wheat, rye and barley in it, Moore said they contract with a farmer in Pendleton to grow corn especially for gluten-free products.
"Several of our people go out every year to do on-site visits of farms where we buy our grains," he said.
The newly installed pallet system is a source of pride for Moore.
"We load 22 pallets on each truck and can stage 63 full truckloads in here now," he said.
Although Moore thinks growth will begin to level, his plans for the future show a missionary's zeal -- to supply the world with whole grain foods without changing the family nature of the company. In 2010 he passed on the challenge and the company to his 235 employees through an employee stock ownership plan.
"That's a good way to turn over the worry," Moore said.
Bob's Red Mill
Store and restaurant
5000 SE International Way, Portland
Open Monday to Friday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Restaurant closes at 3 p.m.
13521 SE Pheasant Court, Milwaukie, Ore.
Free tours: Monday to Friday 10 a.m.