Oregon Magazine

Oregon Entrepreneur Finds
Health Foods Very Profitable
       by Fred Delkin

     Timing, as they say, can be crucial in determining success or failure, be it sports or business. That truism is certainly appropriate in chronicling an Oregon entrepreneur's spectacular upward climb.  Bob Moore, 80 years young, has piloted his Bob's Red Mill Natural Foods into a global sales success in just three decades since its founding in 1978.  This privately held enterprise flys under the flag inscribed "whole grain foods for every meal of the day" and pumps out over 400 products that have moved into the mainstream grocery trade with a 20% per annum sales growth and now employs a staff of 170 in a new corporate milling, warehousing, distribution and retail store complex in a Milwaukie, OR industrial park.  This supports sales now in double digit millions, with a network of domestic and overseas distributors.

Bob left a position as manager of a Firestone auto service center in northern California to follow a somewhat esoteric interest (sparked by his wife's devotion to natural foods on their dairy goat farm) in the ancient craft of stone milling grains. Bob visited some 50 old flour mills in North America and Great Britain and set up a trial operation in Redding, CA.   He moved to Oregon and refurbished a historic flour mill near Oregon City.  He and wife Charlee searched America for grinding stones used in century-old mills.  Their first stone ground flour here was accomplished by using two sets of stones rescued from a mill near Dufur in Oregon wheat country.  

Grain was suspended in 2,000 pound sacks and poured over slowly turning 2-ton stones that ground it into a soft flour at a rate of 1,200 lbs./hour.  Moore's Natural Foods first sold only in the Portland area, with Fred Meyer stores as a primary customer in addition to specialty health food outlets.  In 1988, an arsonist burned down the historic grist mill, but grain stored on the second floor snuffed out the flames before they destroyed the precious grinding stones.  Moore reestablished operations in Milwaukie after borrowing $2.5 million to create Bob's Red Mill, Inc.

Within a decade, the new entity had  grown into nationwide distribution with sales growth of 310% and totaling $6+ million by the mid-1990's.   Mail order became a major sales factor via catalog as Red Mill rode the expanding national focus on healthy nutrition...a trend that continues to expand here and overseas.  Red Mill marketing director Dennis Gilliam declares "that when times are tough, people move away from...frou-frou foods and move back to the basics for full value and good nutrition."  We should add "now, more than ever as our economy tanks!"

New construction launched in '02

In 2002 Red Mill built a aWhole Grain Store & Visitors Center including corporate offices, retail store, a public restaurant and a 50,000 sq. ft. manufacturing plant.  A bookstore and historic displays of milling equipment are included, as are a cooking classroom.  The new structures resemble a 19th  century mill and utilize heavy timbers and wrought iron.  In 2004 Red Mill moved warehousing and distribution activities into a former Meier & Frank warehouse.

The product line exceeds 400 items and includes natural, organic and gluten-free flour lines, cereals, meals and mixes for pancakes, breads and soups.  If you ever need Flaxseed Meal, Hulled Hemp Seed or European Muesli, this is the place!  Seriously, Red Mill automated packaging lines turn out the following top sellers: 13 Bean Soup Mix, Pizza Crust Mix, Corn
Grits Polenta, Brownie Mix, Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix, Rolled Oats, Bulgur Wheat Flour, and Almond Meal Flour...and, of course, much, much more!  Hulled Hemp Seed is a new product for adding to cereals, salads and baked goods for a real protein fix without the 'high' associated with hemp's use as a smoke, known coloquially ax "weed".

Red Mill raw materials are sourced from farms across America and Canada.  The Red Mill Visitors Center at 13521 SE Pheasant Court, Milwaukie, is open 6am-6pm Monday-Friday, 7am-5pm Saturdays, serving breakfast and lunch in the cafe, where the menu does not dwell on health and vegan items and includes Corned Beef, Tuna Melt and Roast Beef sandwich

Red Mill has carved itself a rather unique slot in the world of  food product marketing, coinciding with the somewhat media-driven surge toward a healtrhy diet.  Its major competitor? General Mills which now adds 'healthy' products to its historic dominance of America's cereal, etc. items.

© 2009 Oregon Magazine