Old men with facial hair have been selling us things for decades. Colonel Sanders did it with a goatee and a string tie for Kentucky Fried Chicken, Wilford Brimley and his mustache pitched you Quaker Oats and a mysterious captain preaches about Crunchberries every Saturday morning. There’s just something trustworthy about buying products from a man on Golden Pond, and Bob Moore knows that. The namesake of Oregon-based Bob’s Red Mill has been using his own image (along with his signature cap, beard, and bolo tie) to sell people whole grains since the ’70s.
He may look like a kindly grandfather type on all of those bags of quinoa, but the truth is that 86-year-old Moore is a shrewd businessman with a bit of a temper who’s found success following the combined lessons of the Bible and obscure library books. With over 400 whole grain products in his catalog and a presence in nearly every major grocery chain in America (plus another 81 foreign markets), it’s not a stretch to call Bob the unofficial King of Whole Grains.
In a wide-ranging interview with Food Republic, Moore covered everything from how he developed his signature look to what he believes is the indisputable truth about whole grains. This is the knowledge we gleaned from Bob.
On basic human nutrition:
Where diet is concerned, our personal preference does not change the reality of what our bodies need for good health. It doesn’t make any difference if your kid likes sugar all the time. This is a reality that anyone can say anywhere, under any circumstance. If that’s all they eat, they’re going to do it at the expense of their body’s health, and that’s a fact. Your body needs certain nutrients at certain times in certain quantities, and that’s the reality of good health. Whole grains are definitely a part of that.
How Bob’s Red Mill paved the way for a massive gluten-free movement…
GIG [the Gluten Intolerance Group of North America] came and told me about gluten-free, which I had no knowledge of whatsoever. They wanted me to keep the gluten-free grains, which would be rice and millet and those, separate from wheat, rye, and barley, because they had problems with it. And I read up a little bit about it, and I talked to a very knowledgable fellow, and I wasn’t doing any testing or anything, but we did keep some separate there.
…and how the introduction of gluten-free foods intersected with the realities of running a business:
People came to me and wanted gluten-free foods, and I could produce them. So it wasn’t out of the benevolence of my heart that I did it; it’s because I’m a businessman. I’ve got a payroll. I have a lot of responsibilities, and it’s very important to me to sustain all of that and sustain my people.
On using his face as a mascot for the brand:
People get to know someone, and they either hate you or they love you. You’ve got to start somewhere. I started with a picture.
Why the hat?
I was in Kiwanis for many years. One day years and years ago, one of the members, who was a dermatologist, walked up to me. He looked at my forehead and said, ‘You need to come and see me.’ Basically, I had the beginnings of cancer up there, so he told me he never wanted to see me outside without a hat on. I thought, well, most people put baseball caps on and stuff, and I wasn’t going to wear a fedora — that’s pretty corny. So I went down to John Hellmer, who has a haberdashery and hat shop, looked around at what he had and picked this style. I thought, well, if I’m going to have to wear a hat, I better have something I like on.
His beard started as a lesson for his sons.
When we first moved up here [to Oregon], we were working with the boys in Redding [California]. One of the things about the boys, which was very difficult for their father to take, was the sloppy way they lived. Their clothes had holes in ’em, and they were not shaving and not getting haircuts. My father and I were sticklers on haircuts, so I thought their beards looked terrible. They didn’t trim ’em or anything, so I thought, I’m going to grow a beard, and I did. I grew a nice, full beard in about three months, trimmed it really nice and then went down to Redding. I wanted to show the boys what a decent-looking beard looked like. I don’t know whether I made my point or not; they’re pretty much clean-shaven now. When I got back, I said, ‘I’m going to go shave this crazy thing off.’ And my wife didn’t want me to, so I didn’t. It just became part of my symbol.
Bob’s mission in life:
I’m trying to feed whole grains to the world. It’s good for ’em. It’s not hurting anybody, I can tell you that.
And his thoughts on life itself:
I don’t know how complicated or simple life is, but it really isn’t very complicated.