Sunday, December 4, 2011

Bob's Red Mill Tour

I was stunned when I saw the number of products made by Bob's Red Mill. After all, we usually see no more than 20 on any store's shelves. But I was at the headquarters and at their store where the shelves were lined with every product they made in multiple sizes.

When I went to college in Portland, OR in the 80's, Bob's Red Mill wasn't around, or wasn't big and visible like it is today. Now the large red mill is impossible to miss as you drive down Highway 224 through Milwaukie, OR. Farther down the road is the actual processing plant where all their products are packaged. It's at the plant where I was greeted by Cassidy Stockton, their Social Media Manager. She had kindly offered to take me on a private tour. (Public tours are offered every morning at 10 a.m.)

First mill

We started in a section of the plant that held some historical photos and milling equipment. The business started out as a bit of a hobby. Bob Moore's wife, Charlee, loved to use whole grains in her cooking. Bob started playing around with grinding his own flour for her. Slowly it grew to supplying friends and family until it got to become an actual business. Actually started in Redding, CA, the Bob's Red Mill moved to Oregon in the 80's. Over the years they have grown from grains and flour to include beans, mixes, soups, and more. They are especially known for their line of gluten-free products.

Here you see Bob's very first millstone. Bob's Red Mill uses only traditional French millstones that have been favored by mills for centuries. Apparently the granite at this one quarry in France produces porous granite that is extra hard with lots of edges that can grind down the grain. The channels that are cut into the stone automatically channels the grain so that as it gets finer, it moves down the channel to get ground down finer still until it finally drops through as flour.

Testing lab

As I mentioned, Bob's Red Mill has become particularly well known as the gluten-free market has grown and grown over the years. The company takes it very seriously to make sure there is no possibility of cross contamination. There are separate lines, staff, and labs for all of the gluten-free work. Production staff do not cross between the gluten-free and conventional lines to keep things clear.


Leftover bits of flour are given to local food shelters and banks. The debris flour on the floor is swept up to be used in animal feed. 

In a time of economic upheaval in the country, Bob's is one of the few companies that can say they have grown. Cassidy tells me they have seen 20% gains each year. She couldn't supply me with numbers for the gluten-free versus conventional sides of the business, but I suspect the percentage growth is higher in the gluten-free area.

This machine mixes together ingredients for cake or pancake mixes (etc)
Sorghum flour being milled
Inventory ready to be shipped
After my tour was over I headed to the store and was so overwhelmed with all the products that I didn't buy anything. One thing I liked at the store was that they sell huge 25 pound bags of some items, like the flour. Usually we are only exposed to their little one pound bags in the store. They also had bulk bins, which is a wonderful option. I would love to have a Bob's store with all the products and options nearby.  For now I'll have to make do with the fact I can go when I visit my dad up north.

I want to thank Bob's Red Mill and Cassidy for their time and generosity. Since it is the holidays I asked Cassidy if I could have some product for our food drive instead of for myself, which she is graciously sending.

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