Bob’s Red Mill has been promoting healthy eating for decades, and it’s recently started coming on strong in Singapore. We meet the eponymous company founder to chat about all things organic, gluten-free, and whole grain!
Any mama in Singapore who follows the organic food scene or has dealt with food sensitivities (particularly of the Gluten-Free variety) is almost certain to be a big Bob’s Red Mill fan. With an enormous range of whole grain, organic and gluten-free cooking and baking ingredients (we start every day with Bob’s Steel Cut Oats in our house!), Bob’s is a boon for anyone looking to eat healthy and wholesomely.
And did you know that Bob is a real person? I didn’t until last week, when I found out he’d be here in Singapore visiting Cold Storage and Marketplace and signing cookbooks. After learning a bit more about Bob and his company, it made me love the product even more! Bob Moore and his wife started milling grains all the way back in the 1960s (she was a Sassy Mama concerned about what her sons were eating!); now he’s 87 and still works every day (including traveling the world to meet with suppliers and fans). In 2010 he turned his Oregon, USA company over to employees through a stock ownership program, giving everyone a personal investment in their work to ensure they continued to turn out the absolute best products on earth. He also works with small producers and farmers the world over, setting a standard for fair trade and labour practices.
I had a chance to interview Bob at Tanglin Marketplace last weekend to find out a bit more about how he got so far ahead of the organic and gluten-free curve, his keys to staying so physically and mentally sharp, and even some of his favourite recipes and ingredients (by the way, be sure to check out the company’s amazing Instagram account for some major breakfast inspo, mama!).
Bob was every bit as folksy and down-to-earth as you’d imagine, nimbly hopping up on a stool to have a friendly chat, gamely snapping photos and signing autographs for the fans who wandered up to praise him throughout the interview, and eagerly whipping out his iPhone to show me photos of visits to his suppliers around the world and read me emails received from grateful mamas that seemed to genuinely resonate with him. If you’re looking for high-quality foods to feed your families, mamas, Bob’s Red Mill is definitely a brand you can feel good about. Read on to find out why!
How did you become interested in growing your own food and milling whole grains?
It began in the 1960s when we were raising three sons in Northern California. Fast food places were starting to pop up all over, but at the same time even then there was research coming out about the effects of too much white flour, salt and sugar. My wife read a book called The Health Builder by J.I. Rodale, and said “We need to change our way of eating”. Most of the book’s principles still stand up today.
Luckily we didn’t have trouble sourcing all-natural ingredients like brown rice, corn meal, and whole wheat flours. We started baking our own bread, eating balanced meals that avoided too much salt and sugar, and we just felt better! We still let those principles guide our eating, and I have more energy than I sometimes know what to do with!
Around the same time, I read a book by George Woodbury called John Goffe’s Mill about a man who built a successful business in the 1940s milling his own whole grains. I thought to myself, “If I could find some mills, I could do the same thing”. We eventually located some millstones and equipment, had it shipped out from North Carolina, and opened the original Moore’s Farm in California in 1972 [later moving to Oregon in 1978].
Read More: Guide to Organic Food Shopping in Singapore
When did you start selling your products internationally? Was it a tough sell, or did you find there was a lot of demand for them?
We started selling our products internationally pretty early on, starting in the early-mid 1980s. We visited some trade shows, including the Natural Foods Show in London, and were amazed at all the people coming up to tell us they loved our products. Some of our earliest relationships were in Saudi Arabia; we had no idea we were so popular there!
We started off selling in Canada, which is obviously close by to the US, but they still require different labels and they list their nutritional ingredients differently, so it was a learning experience nonetheless, and it’s just sort of grown from there.
Today we sell all over the world but Asia-Pacific is among our strongest markets – in fact we have a sales team and office based in Singapore. We’ve sold through Cold Storage for more than six years, and they sell the largest range of Bob’s Products available outside the U.S. Australia is now our biggest market in the world (outside the U.S. and Canada), perhaps because they’re the world’s leader in gluten-free nutrition and products.
Where do you source your products from?
Oh, all over! We certainly like to source locally in the U.S. as much as possible, but of course some things just don’t grow there. Our coconuts, for instance, from the Philippines; we’ve had a 30-year relationship with our supplier there.
Our excellent quinoa comes from Peru and Bolivia; these are small-time cooperative farmers who produce over 150 container loads a year – that’s quite a lot of food! It’s been so wonderful getting to meet these farmers and their families [pulls out a photo with two women from Bolivia in traditional dress] and to see how they prosper.
Some of our oats come from Saskatchewan in Canada – wherever it’s cold and the most miserable for people, it’s usually the best for oats and flax!
There are other cooperative farmers we work with nearby in California and Oregon – we really try to buy from wherever we consider the absolute best source, although things like freight and shipping costs are considered as well. Honestly we have a great network of suppliers all over the world, and it all runs through our nerve center, our 550,000 square feet warehouse and offices in Oregon.
Gluten and other food sensitivities are on the on the rise and many mamas struggle to find products that are safe for their kids, particularly in Singapore. This is another area where you’ve been ahead of the curve; when did you start producing gluten-free foods?
Wheat has been a basic part of the human diet forever, and obviously it’s always been at the heart of our products. It seems like in the last 10 years or so gluten and other food sensitivities have been on the rise, and as recently as a few years ago it was almost impossible to eat gluten-free in the U.S. A while back a group called GIG (Gluten Intolerance Group) came to us and asked for our help and input; it just so happened that we’d moved into a new warehouse that had a separate area suitable for testing and developing gluten-free products.
We started working with a company in Portland to test out our current products and figure out whether this was something we could do. Technically, gluten-free is defined as food with 200 gluten parts per million (or lower). Yet people with Celiac’s Disease and strong intolerance need their foods at 50 parts per million or less. Our initial levels were at 20 parts per million, but we thought we could do better.
Read More: The Gluten-Free Guide to Singapore
Australia has the most stringent GF requirements at 5 parts per million and we said, “Why not hold ourselves to that standard?” Our food is truly Gluten-FREE! Today we test everything ourselves, and we’re extremely serious about that – you’d be surprised at how unusual that actually is in the Gluten-Free food space.
What are some of your most popular gluten-free products?
Our #1 product is our Gluten-Free “1 to 1” Baking Flour (it’s also wheat-free and dairy-free, but it still features three stone-ground, whole grain flours). It is an incredible product – we get more comments on that than almost anything else, because it’s harder than you think to find GF baking substitutes that still work for baking.
[At this point Bob reads me an email from a grateful mama whose children have food sensitivities. She thanks him for his wide range of products that “help them feel like normal children” by making tasty and wholesome snacks that are fun to bake together. He tells me that the email was circulated throughout the company, because it’s good to be reminded of how they are able to help families.]
You are 87 and obviously still quite active. What is your secret to staying physically healthy and mentally sharp?
I’m not Gluten-Free, I’m not vegan or vegetarian, I’m just an all-around person who likes eating healthy, balanced foods. I love lamb and a good glass of wine [at this point he makes a joke about how expensive the wine is in Singapore], I love the piano, I walk around our warehouse every day because I want to say hello to everyone and it’s good exercise. My cholesterol level is 121 [200 and below is considered healthy], and I put that down to healthy eating and a balanced lifestyle!
My daughter LOVES your Steel Cut Oats and eats them EVERY DAY for breakfast. Do you have a favorite oatmeal recipe or ingredient that you like to add?
Lately I’ve been eating our Extra Thick Rolled Oats – you’ve gotta get up an extra 20 minutes earlier to let them cook, but it’s worth it! I like to add walnuts, flax seed meal, cane sugar and a banana. You start your day with that, and you’re gonna have energy, and you’re not gonna be hungry until lunchtime.
[NB: For the uninitiated, oats are an AMAZING thing to eat for breakfast: they’ve been shown to lower cholesterol, reduce the risk of heart disease and lower the risk of type 2 Diabetes. They are also high in protein and healthy fats, lower in carbs than other whole grains, filled with anti-oxidants with anti-inflammatory properties, and are shown to keep you fuller longer, which is great for weight loss – perhaps not a concern for children, but nice to know for mamas!).
Are there any products produced in America that we can look forward to seeing soon in Singapore?
Cold Storage actually carries one of the widest ranges of our products outside North America, but you can look forward to our Nutritional Boosters with Probiotics coming soon. These have been really popular with parents in the U.S., and we know you’ll love them in Singapore, too! We’ve also just recently introduced our Gluten-Free Oatmeal Cups (available in Original, Blueberry Hazelnut, Apple Cinnamon and Brown Sugar & Maple). They’re great on the go (ready in just 3 minutes) and available exclusively at Cold Storage. Perfect for your busy readers, I think!
Thank you so much, Bob! To find out more about Bob’s Red Mill (and score some awesome recipes), be sure to check out their website, mama. And to get your hands on the widest range of their amazing products in Singapore, visit your nearest Cold Storage or Marketplace!