Mark Rinker, co-owner of Arva Flour Mill, holds a bag of Red River cereal made in the mill in Arva on Friday, Aug. 12, 2022. Arva Flour Mill acquired the Red River cereal brand from Smuckers Foods of Canada Corp., which stopped producing the cereal last year.Derek Ruttan/The London Free Press

Original Published on Aug 12, 2022 at 13:48

By Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Canada’s oldest water-powered flour mill, a 19th-century London-area landmark sold last year, is growing under new ownership with the expansion of its artisan products, including an iconic cereal brand, into new stores.

Since taking over Arva Flour Mill last October, co-owners Mark and Jo-elle Rinker have expanded its brand to more than 120 retail stores in Ontario, and will soon add another 30. Rinker said he’s always thought of the mill as a brand, or a business that could become one.

“It’s Canada’s sixth oldest company . . . and it has a very good reputation,” he said.

So, when the price of wheat started to climb after Russia invaded Ukraine, Rinker said, he and his wife thought of “how we can make the grains and flour work harder for us.”

Starting with bread mixes and cornbread, the mill produced new products that quickly proved to be “very popular” among customers, helping the mill expand further across the province, Rinker said.

The centuries-old landmark just north of London now sells artisan flours, beer bread, cornbread and red fife pancake mix as part of its Arva Flour Mills brand.

But it’s their latest addition that may strike the biggest chord for customers.

In June, the company bought the Red River Cereal brand – a childhood favourite for many – from Smuckers Foods of Canada Corp., which stopped selling the brand last year. The cereal is now available online and at the mill, with a provincewide rollout planned for later this year.

“We’ve had a tremendous reaction from across the country and into the U.S.,” Rinker said. “I’ve received a number of personal emails and phone calls from customers who are a big fan of Red River and are really glad to see it back and available.”

Created in Manitoba in 1924, the cereal was named after the Red River of the North, a valley near Winnipeg. The recipe includes cracked wheat and rye but was altered about 10 years ago to include steel-cut wheat instead.

In its true historic fashion, the mill has brought the original recipe back, producing the cereal in-house. Combining its business with the Red River brand is an ultimate pairing Rinker describes as a “natural fit.”

“(The cereal) is a complement to our flour and the beer bread products that we make,” he said.

The mill opened in 1819 at its location on Medway Creek, and the previous owner’s family bought the business in 1919.

Plans already are underway to add more products under the Red River Cereal brand, with the first one, the Red River cream of whole wheat, expected to hit shelves and the online store this fall.

As for future growth, Rinker said the Ontario-based company already is eyeing the possibility of expanding into western Canada.

“We do have interest from other retailers in Western Canada since announcing the Red River acquisition,” he said, adding the mill would have to determine logistics before finalizing anything.

“We’re selling quite a bit online to Western Canada, and I know that brand would be welcomed back on the shelves in that region of the country.”

This item reprinted with permission from Free Press, London, Ontario