How Bob Moore, of Bob’s Red Mill, Got Grocery-Store Famous

Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods was founded in 1978, but it wasn’t until several years later that the company hit upon the thing that made its oats, groats and other natural food products so immediately recognizable on supermarket shelves. That was when the likeness of Bob Moore, the company’s eponymous founder, began appearing on the packaging.

With his white beard, wire-rim eyeglasses, newsie cap and bolo tie, Mr. Moore, who died last week at age 94, was an unlikely style icon whose folksiness seemed to personify the wholesome artisanal grains produced by his company at an old mill in Milwaukie, Ore.

Mr. Moore may not have been a movie star like Paul Newman, whose face similarly adorns Newman’s Own foods, but he became just as recognizable to anyone who has pushed a shopping cart down a grains and nuts aisle.

An illustration of Mr. Moore appears on the packaging for each of his brand’s more than 400 products, from hulled millet to yellow popcorn, next to the tagline, “To Your Good Health.” The text on the Bob’s Red Mill bags and boxes, rendered in homey fonts that might have been used to sell tinctures in the Old West, includes bits of found poetry (“golden spurtle”) and understated hucksterism (“good source of fiber”). The distinctive but unflashy branding, a piece of modern Americana that falls somewhere between hippie and Norman Rockwell, makes for an oasis of calm in crowded supermarkets.

According to company lore, Mr. Moore agreed to be the face of Bob’s Red Mill only after a friend suggested he should use his image on the packaging. Unlike the Quaker Oats man, Mr. Moore had the virtue of being a real person. His picture, he came to believe, conveyed to shoppers that he backed the grains, beans, seeds, powders and flours contained within the bags.

Part of the Bob’s Red Mill display at a Whole Foods Market in White Plains, N.Y.Credit…James Estrin/The New York Times
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