Boss is poster boy for own food products

He is the bearded face you see on the Bob's Red Mill packages in supermarkets. The difference between this image and the faces you see adorning many other brands is that Bob is not a creation of a marketing department.

He is about as real as it gets.

At age 87, Bob Moore, who was in Singapore last week on a publicity tour, is still the chief executive of the company he founded in 1978 in Oregon.

Back in the 1970s, the head of a huge grain corporation told him that "big companies don't under- stand people as individuals".

Small companies like his could relate to customers on a person- to-person basis and he would be wasting a heaven-sent opportunity if he failed to make a real human connection, a quality food com- panies crave so much that they manufacture fake spokesmen.

Mr Moore took the advice. Today, his visage and a greeting - "To your good health" - is on every packet of grains, seeds or beans you may have heard of, including oats, barley and wheat, and those you may have not, such as amaranth, teff, spelt and kamut.

If he is not as famous as other food icons here, it is because the products sell in mostly high-end shops, such as Cold Storage Supermarket at Great World City, where we are seated in the wine corner.

But he does have his fans. About a dozen of them are here to see the man whose image is synonymous with the wellness movement, along with related food trends, such as low-carb, Paleo and gluten-free.

The food giants, eyeing the hundreds of millions in revenue that Mr Moore's company takes in annually, are jumping in with products that copy his back-to- nature ethos, which favour health and quality over convenience.

The founder is not worried.

"Competition is everywhere, in England, France, even in your own country. But they usually pick five or six items. I have 400. I have a full line of products. I'm hoping the public will migrate to my products because this is the only business we are in," he says.

Variety is brand virtue and it is why Bob's Red Mill packages do not just take up a corner of the shelf. They take up a row, if not several. Fans talk of the browsing experience. Each packet is covered with text extolling the virtues of its contents, its typeface recalling an America of horses, buggies, small- town values and real food.

Ms Jan Chernus, vice-president of international sales, says: "People love it that we're not a big corpo- ration and they are loyal to Bob."

The image of Bob's Red Mill being a human-scaled company got a boost in 2010 when, in a move called an Employee Stock Ownership Plan, Mr Moore gave away the ownership of the company to his staff, now numbering 400.

He and the executive board still run the company and make decisions such as turning down the suitors who come by now and then, looking to buy the company. The employees made the company a success and giving them ownership was fair.

In his characteristically plain- spoken way, he says that "it was the right thing to do".

"I'm 87. How long am I gonna live? When I die, what am I gonna take with me?" says Mr Moore, who has three sons with wife Charlee.

Ms Chernus says the products that are popular in the United States are also best-sellers here and in the rest of Asia. These include the steel cut oats and muesli, both of which got a boost by a mention on Oprah Winfrey's show in 2005.

Neither the company's more exotic offerings such as quinoa, nor its more standard line of gluten- free products have taken off in the same way as they have in the United States, but she sees demand for them growing in this region.

It is Mr Moore's first trip to Singapore. As we chat, shoppers glance at the man in the derby cap, glasses and red vest, do a double-take and come over to say hello.

He has a hearty greeting for each one. He is in fine fettle, he says, giving further evidence to the notion that the brand could not have found a better ambassador. He eats a breakfast of cooked whole grains every day.

"I get up at six every morning and go to work. I travel all over the world. I never get sick. I have no intention of retiring."

This article was first published on April 18, 2016.
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