How an Ontario flour mill saved an iconic Canadian hot cereal loved by northerners | CBC News

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Allicia Kelly had just finished her “Hail Mary box” of Red River Cereal in October when she decided to take to Facebook in a desperate act to see if she could find more.

The cereal had been taken off the shelves, but she was able to get this last box from the basement of her parents’ house and wondered if, perhaps, other people had something available that they didn’t want: grainy, nutty cereal is so reviled as one loves.

But it was from that Facebook post that she discovered that Red River Cereal, the nearly 100-year-old Canadian culinary classic, was available for purchase after an absence of roughly two years thanks to an Ontario flour mill.

Off shelves ‘due to low support’

This was a relief to many in the North who depend on grain in the bush, including Marc Winkler, presenter for CBC’s weekend.

Winkler said her heart sank in 2021 when she learned that Red River Cereal was no longer being produced.

It started when he couldn’t find the product in stores, so Winkler used his reporting skills to find out why.

It found that Smuckers, an American company that owned Red River Cereal at the time, discontinued the product “due to low support.” They had already stopped selling it in Canada in 2020.

Winkler said he contacted Smuckers to let the company know he would get support if they brought back the grain, believing only he could keep his profits up. He was not the only northerner with this thought.

Marc Winker, left, and Loren McGinnis pictured with Red River Cereal. Winkler dove deep to find out why the cereal was no longer sold in grocery stores, but on this trip he discovered that his beloved cereal was now available thanks to an Ontario flour mill. (Loren McGinnis/CBC)

Yellowknife resident Rosanna Strong said Red River Cereal was a staple for her and her family.

Strong said he occasionally used the cereal to bake bread or pancakes, but it was a crucial component for long road trips.

He still remembers a year ago when he was looking for some to take on a long canoe trip.

Strong checked every store in town, including his Weaver and Devore, where he was told the tragic news: Red River Cereal was no longer in production.

“And that’s when I got down on my knees crying,” she said with a laugh.

This is a far cry from how you felt about cereal when you first tried it as a preteen.

“It was disgusting, why would anyone eat that?” she told herself about her first bite of the grainy breakfast.

“As I got older, I came to appreciate the nuttiness, the chewiness, the texture.”

Rosanna Strong said she’s been eating Red River Cereal for years and was devastated when she found out it was no longer available in stores. (Submitted by Rosanna Strong)

However, Garth Wallbridge, a Yellowknife attorney, said he always liked cereal for breakfast.

“We had it quite regularly at the breakfast table when I was a kid,” he said.

Wallbridge is Métis and from Manitoba, where Red River Cereal was first made, giving it a touch of nostalgia to go along with its seedy texture.

Wallbridge said that when he discovered it was no longer for sale, he loaded up a few bags, though he wished he had bought more at the time.

But now he’s placed an order and is looking forward to having what he describes as the perfect hot meal to start the day before heading off to or working on the land in the cold winter months.

Arva Flour Mill

Arva Flour Mill in Ontario, the oldest continuously operating commercial water-powered flour mill in North America, purchased Red River Cereal last June.

Mark Rinker is the owner of the Arva Flour Mill, located about six miles northwest of London.

Rinker purchased the mill a little over a year ago, and it was around this time that he first heard of Red River Cereal.

He said he spent time in the mill store while the purchase was being made and overheard several customers asking if they sold the classic cereal. Curious, he began to investigate the cereal and discovered its history.

Being outside a camp, or a bush camp or a cabin, that’s where I belong– Allicia Kelly on her take on the Red River Cereal character

In 1924, a woman named Gertrude Edna Skilling came up with the recipe in her kitchen in Winnipeg. Her husband was the president of the Red River Grain Co. and started making it. It was then purchased by the Maple Leaf Milling Co. in 1928 and then by Smuckers in 1995.

Rinker said she noticed how disappointed customers were when they found out the cereal was no longer being produced.

“The contention was pretty similar when the mill went up for sale last August,” Rinker said, adding that there were fears the iconic mill would close and be sold to a developer.

Red River Cereal is now owned and sold by Arva Flour Mill in Ontario. (Arva Flour Mill website)

He said people were relieved when the mill remained in operation and thought many would be equally pleased with the return of the iconic grain.

Rinker then began discussing the purchase with Smuckers later in the year and it was finalized in June 2022.

A press release said that the original recipe was slightly modified in 2011 to include steel-cut wheat and rye, but that Arva would revert to the original recipe and include cracked wheat and rye.

The statement says that the mill is in the process of acquiring a hammer mill to break the grain.

“Breaking the grain will result in a creamier texture and restore the cereal to its original shape,” according to the statement.

For Allicia Kelly, who originally posted looking for the cereal, Red River Cereal is part of the fabric of the North: Her parents and grandparents spent a lot of time in campgrounds where a hot cereal to start the day was a daily routine.

“Being in a backcountry camp, in a jungle camp or in a cabin, that’s where I belong,” he said.

And he’s happy a staple of bush life is back.

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