Bob’s Red Mill Founder and Face of Iconic Brand Dies at 94

Bob Moore, the founder of longstanding whole grain food company Bob’s Red Mill, died peacefully at his home on Saturday, February 10.

Farewell To A Food Pioneer

Shoppers will likely recognize his face for adorning the brand’s packaging for decades, with the company calling him “one of the most recognized figures in the natural foods industry” with a “larger-than-life personality,” in a release.

Bob Moore, who became an amiable face of the natural foods industry as the bearded, bolo tie-wearing founder of Bob’s Red Mill, the whole-grain food brand known as a favorite of vegans, home bakers, health-food enthusiasts and gluten-free diners, died Feb. 10 at his home in Milwaukie, Ore., the former mill town where the company is based. He was 94.

He remained on the company’s board until his passing.

Moore’s Milwaukie, Oregon-based company has become one of the most well-known whole grain food brands worldwide, with more than 200 products distributed in 70 countries.

Moore was a leader in the stone-milled flour renaissance, opening his first mill in the 1970s, decades before its resurgence in the early aughts; the company was also an early adopter and producer of gluten-free flours and baking mixes, making them widely available to many for the first time.

Later in life, Moore made headlines for turning over ownership of the company to his employees in the form of company stock.

“Bob’s legacy will live on forever in all of us who had the opportunity to work with him and is infused into the Bob’s Red Mill brand,” said Bob’s Red Mill CEO Trey Winthrop.

That brand has become a grocery store staple, selling several different kinds of grains including oats, flour and gluten-free grains like quinoa.

History of Red Mill

Under Mr. Moore and his wife, co-founder Charlee Moore, the private company grew from an artisanal Oregon business into a global empire of stone-ground grains, cereals and flours, with annual sales of “well over $100 million,” Mr. Moore told podcast host Guy Raz in 2018.

The company went on a hiring spree in 2020, buoyed by a surge of 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 embrace the health-conscious approach that his brand promoted from its founding in 1978.

He once thought that gluten-free dieters “were nuts,” he said, and 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, it needed whole grains,” he recalled in an episode of Raz’s podcast “How I Built This.”

While managing a J.C. Penney auto shop in Redding, Calif., Mr. Moore came across a library book, “John Goffe’s Mill,” in which Harvard anthropologist George Woodbury chronicled his attempts to restore a derelict 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 corn meal, inspired Mr. Moore to think that he might be able to run a mill of his own.

Mr. Moore began writing letters to millers across the country, seeking out antique equipment, and eventually acquired a few sets of 19th-century quartz millstones from a defunct mill in North Carolina. He went on to find modest success with his first milling company, 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.

Bob Moore in a 2014 photo. Natalie Behring/Bloomberg/Getty Images

When he was about 50, he decided to turn the milling business over to his children.

He sold most of his possessions, moved to Portland, Ore., with his wife and enrolled at Western Evangelical Seminary, now part of George Fox University, where he sought to fulfill a long-held ambition of learning Hebrew and Greek so that he could 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 gave myself over to it.”

Within six months, Mr. Moore was again seized by visions of stone-ground flour and grains. He and his wife were quizzing each other on Greek nouns and verbs, going over flashcards during a walk in nearby Milwaukie, a few miles south of downtown Portland, when they spotted an old mill and a “for sale” sign out front.

Inside were bucket elevators and grain cleaners, along with virtually all of the milling equipment that Mr. Moore knew he needed to get started.

Moore in his office in a 2011 picture. Leah Nash/For the Washington Post/Getty Images

Using a set of 1870s millstones he acquired from another old mill, he soon launched Bob’s Red Mill. His wife did the bookwork and packaged many of the original products while Mr. Moore set to work promoting the business, getting on the evening news within a few weeks of opening the mill and filling the parking lot shortly after that.

The company grew with help from the Fred Meyer superstore chain, which began carrying its products in the Pacific Northwest.

In 2010, on his 81st birthday, he began transferring control to his staff through a new employee stock ownership plan. “The Bible says to do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” he later told Portland Monthly, explaining his belief that sharing profits and ownership would “make things more fair and more benevolent.”

“We built these machines,” he told The Washington Post in 2011, showing off the mill. “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.”

Mr. Moore in 2011, chatting with customers at the Bob’s Red Mill restaurant in Milwaukie. (Leah Nash for The Washington Post)

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

At age 87, Mr. Moore traveled to the village of Carrbridge, in the Scottish Highlands, where he won the Golden Spurtle World Porridge Making Championship using a batch of his company’s steel cut oats.

Mr. Moore said in a 2018 interview that the private company was doing “well over $100 million” in revenue a year. (Leah Nash for The Washington Post)

Outside of his company, Moore was known for his love of cars and airplanes, as well as his philanthropic interest in preventative health and nutrition programs.

The Moores helped fund Oregon State University’s Moore Family Center for Whole Grain Foods, Nutrition, and Preventive Health; the couple also helped found the Bob and Charlee Moore Institute for Nutrition & Wellness at Oregon Health & Science University.

Read about Bob’s Lifetime Achievement Award, here.

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