Bob Moore, Founder and Face of Bob’s Red Mill, Dies at 94

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Bob Moore, who became a kind face of the natural foods industry as the bearded, bolo-tie founder of Bob’s Red Mill, the whole-grain foods brand known as a favorite of vegans, home bakers, hobbyists health food and gluten-free dinners, died February 10 at his home in Milwaukie, Oregon, the former industrial town where the company is based. He was 94 years old.

A company spokeswoman confirmed his death without giving the cause.

A popular, almost Santa-like character who often wore a red vest or coat, Mr. Moore was instantly recognizable to anyone who purchased a package of Bob’s Red Mill barley, bulgur or buckwheat. An illustration of his face, gently smiling beneath a flat cap and wire-rimmed glasses, adorns each of the company’s more than 200 products, alongside a greeting that conveys some of the former seminarian’s laid-back charm: “To your good health.”

Under the leadership of Mr. Moore and his wife, co-founder Charlee Moore, the privately held company has grown from an artisanal Oregon business to a global empire of stone-ground grains and flours, with sales annual revenues of “well over $100 million,” according to Mr. Moore told podcast host Guy Raz in 2018. The company embarked on a hiring spree in 2020, buoyed by a surge in interest in baking during the coronavirus pandemic, and says it now has more than 700 employees, with sales in more than 70 countries.

Mr Moore, who retired as chief executive in 2018 and continued to serve on the board until his death, was initially hesitant to adopt the health-conscious approach that his brand has been promoting since its inception in 1978. He once thought gluten-free dieters “We were nuts,” he said, and he was skeptical of his wife’s interest in books like “Let’s Get Well “, by nutritionist Adelle Davis.

But his father’s death from a heart attack at age 49, along with his wife’s experiments in whole-grain baking in the 1960s, began to pique his interest in healthy eating. “Our world needed better food, whole grains,” he recalls in an episode of Raz’s podcast “How I Built This.”

While managing a JC Penney automobile shop in Redding, Calif., Mr. Moore came across a library book, “John Goffe’s Mill,” in which Harvard anthropologist George Woodbury recounted his attempts to restore a abandoned mill that belonged to his family in New Hampshire. . The book, with its evocative descriptions of traditional milling techniques and the glories of stone-ground flour and cornmeal, inspired Mr. Moore to think that perhaps he could run his own mill.

Mr. Moore began writing letters to millers across the country, looking for old equipment, and eventually acquired a few sets of 19th-century quartz grinding wheels from an old mill in North Carolina. He then enjoyed modest success with his first flour mill, Moores’ Flour Mill, which he founded in 1974 with his wife and two of his sons, working out of a vacant Quonset hut in Redding.

But a few years later, as he approached fifty, he decided to entrust the milling business to his children. He sold most of his possessions, moved to Portland, Oregon, with his wife, and enrolled at Western Evangelical Seminary, now part of George Fox University, where he sought to realize his lifelong ambition date to learn Hebrew and Greek so that he can read the Bible in two of its original languages.

“That was my goal in life, one hundred percent,” he said in an oral history for Oregon State University. “I surrendered to it.”

After six months, Mr. Moore was again seized by visions of stone-ground flour and grain. He and his wife were puzzling over Greek nouns and verbs, reviewing flashcards during a walk in the nearby town of Milwaukie, a few miles south of downtown Portland, when they spotted an old mill and a “for sale” sign in front of the house. Inside were bucket elevators and grain cleaners, as well as virtually all the milling equipment Mr. Moore knew he needed to get started.

“I call it my emotional epiphany,” he told the Oregonian newspaper, recalling his first encounter with the building. “Whatever excuse I want to give, I was sucked in like a vortex.”

Using a set of 1870s millstones he had acquired from another old mill, he soon launched Bob’s Red Mill. His wife wrote the books and packaged many of the original products while Mr. Moore set to work promoting the company, appearing on the evening news within weeks of the factory’s opening and filling the parking lot shortly after. time later.

The company grew with the help of the Fred Meyer supermarket chain, which began marketing its products in the Pacific Northwest. After a fire destroyed the factory in 1988 – an arsonist reportedly set the building on fire – Mr. Moore moved the company to a larger facility in Milwaukie, expanding from about 18,000 to 60,000 square feet. Within a few years, the company was supplying wholesalers across the country. Its overseas sales began in the early 2000s.

For years, Mr. Moore turned away potential buyers, insisting on retaining ownership of the business. In 2010, on his 81st birthday, he began transferring control to his staff through a new employee share ownership plan. “The Bible says do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” he later told the Portland Monthly, explaining his belief that sharing profits and property would “make things more fair and more benevolent.”

Mr. Moore continued to come to the office daily, driving to work in one of his two 1931 Ford Model As, and sometimes playing piano duets for visitors, performing songs by Gershwin or Cole Porter with his executive assistant. More often than not, he checked factory equipment, conducted product tests three times a day, and sang the praises of ancient techniques that he sought to marry with modern machinery.

“We built these machines,” he told the Washington Post in 2011, showing off the factory. “The others that existed were screaming, getting hot and going 94 miles an hour. I don’t live my life that way and I don’t want my food that way.

The oldest of two children, Robert Gene Moore was born in Portland on February 15, 1929. He grew up in San Bernardino, California, where his father drove a truck selling Wonder Bread, according to the “How I Built This” podcast. .

After graduating from high school, Mr. Moore served three years in the Army, helping build roads and bridges on Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands, where the Army was conducting testing nuclear. He returned home to work as an electronics technician and married Charlee Lu Coote in 1953, a year after their blind date.

Mr. Moore managed gas stations in Gardena and Mammoth Lakes, Calif., before moving to Sacramento, where he sold lawn mowers and hardware supplies at Sears. For a time, he and his family lived on a five-acre goat farm, where Charlee cooked with whole grains, raised chickens and tended a garden. Mr Moore described it as “heaven on earth”.

He and his wife then set aside $30 million to launch two academic centers, the Moore Family Center for Whole Grain Foods, Nutrition and Preventive Health at Oregon State University in Corvallis and the Bob and Charlee Moore Institute for Nutrition and Wellness from Oregon Health and Science. University of Portland.

Charlee died in 2018. Survivors include their three sons, Ken, Bob Jr. and David; nine grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

At 87, Mr Moore traveled to the village of Carrbridge in the Scottish Highlands, where he won the world championship in making Golden Spurtle porridge using a batch of his company’s steel-cut oats. The honor went to a traditional porridge, prepared only with oats, water and salt, although the Portland Monthly reported that Mr. Moore preferred to make some concessions to modernity, preparing his daily oats with “flaxseed flour, nuts, banana slices, turbinado sugar”. and skimmed milk.

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