Roman Meal Company

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Roman Meal Company

2101 South Tacoma Way
Tacoma, Washington 98409
Telephone: (253) 475-0964
Toll Free: (800) 426-3600
Fax: (253) 475-1906
Web site:

Private Company
Incorporated: 1912
Employees: 50
Sales: $22 million (2005 est.)
NAIC: 311812 Commercial Bakeries

Roman Meal Company is a Tacoma, Washington-based company that licenses the Roman Meal name and recipes for breads and buns to some 90 large bakeries in the United States as well as Southeast Asia. Products are sent to the company's headquarters to be tested for quality assurance. Roman Meal also supplies the bakeries with core ingredients, a blend of whole grains produced at mills located in Fargo, North Dakota. Furthermore, Roman Meal supplies graphics and promotional materials to licensees, and does advertising for the brand. In addition to bread, the company produces a line of hot cereals, granolas, and whole grain snack bars. Each year about 37 million loaves of Roman Meal bread are sold in the United States, Malaysia, Singapore, and Japan.

Traditional Roman Meal breads, containing whole wheat, whole rye, wheat bran, and flaxseed, are available in sandwich, round top, and split-top styles. Other varieties include split-top with oat bran, 100 percent whole wheat, honey nut and oat bran, honey wheat-berry, seven grain, sun grain, and twelve grain. Roman Meal hot dog and hamburger buns are available in multigrain, potato wheat, and multigrain formulations. Dinner rolls and English muffins also are sold under the Roman Meal name. Roman Meal cereals include Original with Oats Hot Cereal, Hearty Raisins Dates and Almond Hot Cereal, Hearty Apple Cinnamon Hot Cereal, and Cream of Rye. The Fargo mills also produce Honey Coconut Almond Granola and a line of individually wrapped whole grain snack bars, available in Oatmeal Raisin, Cranberry Walnut, and Apple Cinnamon. Another development in the 2000s is an alliance with the Red Hat Society, a social organization for women over 50, a core Roman Meal target. In conjunction with Red Hat, Roman Meal has developed the Ruby brand of breads and snack bars, the products officially adopted by the Red Hat Society. Roman Meal is privately owned by the Matthaei family.


Roman Meal was not founded by the Matthaei family. Rather, the man responsible for the Roman Meal recipe was Dr. Robert G. Jackson, a man born in Canada in 1865 who around 1910 moved to Tacoma. Always suffering from poor health, he looked for a new way to improve his body through exercise and natural foods. It was an approach similar to that of Dr. John Kellogg, C. W. Post, and the Battle Creek Sanitarium. Like Kellogg and Post, Dr. Jackson developed a cereal produced from grains. Dr. Jackson drew inspiration from his reading of ancient history and the stories of how Roman soldiers subsisted on a daily diet of two pounds of wheat or rye prepared as a gruel. He began experiments with ground grains and developed what he called Dr. Jackson's Roman Health Meal, essentially a porridge composed of whole grain wheat, rye, bran, and flaxseed. He also used his "Roman Meal" to make bread, muffins, and pancakes. The hot cereal and bread played a major part in his diet, which also consisted of a great deal of fruits and vegetables, accompanied by a coffee substitute made from roasted wholemeal grains called "Kofy-Sub," which he drank hot or iced. He also took to an exercise regimen, sleeping with the windows open even in subzero temperatures, and taking invigorating cold baths. Despite being middle aged, Dr. Jackson succeeded in revitalizing his health (likely because he corrected vitamin deficiencies), and began promoting his program to his patients, as well as to the general public through a book he authored: How to Be Always Well.

Dr. Jackson started the Roman Meal Company in Tacoma in 1912 to produce his Roman Meal cereal, a product that fared much better than the now forgotten Kofy-Sub. For a logo, he used a picture of a Roman Legionnaire. In 1927 he sold the business to William Matthaei, whose family ties to baking extended to the 1680s in Germany. Matthaei's father, Henry, was a master baker who emigrated to the United States and in 1872 opened a bakery in Kansas City. The younger Matthaei learned the trade and went to work for the Fleischmann Yeast Company, employment that brought him to Tacoma. He eventually struck out on his own, settled in Tacoma, and bought a small bakery. He built up the business, opened a larger facility, and became the leading baker in the region. After acquiring Jackson's company, he was able to convert the Roman Meal formula into a nutritious and flavorful bread. He was so enthusiastic about the potential of Roman Meal bread that two years later he sold his bakery and devoted his attention to the Roman Meal Company. He began to license Roman Meal bread and provide the mix of key ingredients to independent bakeries, which distributed the bread to their markets. A second division of the company produced the hot cereal, sold to grocers. At this stage the cereal was the company's main business, but the sale of Roman Meal bread grew steadily as Matthaei succeeded in licensing the product to bakeries across the country.


Bread sales finally surpassed cereal in the late 1940s. By this time a second generation of the Matthaei family was involved in the running of the Roman Meal Company. World War II prevented Charles Matthaei from joining the business sooner. After graduating from high school in Tacoma in 1938, he enrolled at the University of Washington and participated in the Reserve Officers' Training Corp, gaining a commission in the navy in 1942, several months after the attack on Pearl Harbor that brought the United States into a war already raging in Europe and the Pacific. He was assigned to the battleship Missouri operating in the Pacific and as a result became a witness to an important moment in history. In September 1945 a Japanese delegation boarded the ship to officially surrender and bring World War II to a close. Matthaei remained in the service until 1947, then returned home to Tacoma and went to work with his father running Roman Meal. Ironically, Japan became an important market for the company, and occasionally he traveled to the country and made friends with men he had previously fought.

After a brief recession the postwar economy boomed, as did Roman Meal sales, especially in bread. In 1947 the Tacoma plant was expanded, and by the end of the decade bread sales finally exceeded cereal sales. The company prospered, due in large measure to its ability to adapt to changing demands from consumers. In the 1950s bread gained a reputation as a fattening food, and although Roman Meal bread was ahead of its time as a low-fat product, many of the licensed bakers requested a diet bread mix. Charles Matthaei read about Dr. Norman Jollif, the head of New York City's Bureau of Nutrition, in the Saturday Evening Post and was fascinated by his research that connected weight loss to a lowering risk of heart attack. Matthaei arranged a meeting with Jollif, who was impressed with the Roman Meal products. He was persuaded to create a low-fat, high-fiber diet plan to prevent heart attacks and improve general health. It was printed and distributed to the bakers, who then placed the pamphlets in racks next to Roman Meal bread. It proved to be an effective marketing tool and the diet plan was so successful that even after stores no longer allowed the material on the shelves customers continued to write to the company for an updated version.


We're a family company and baking is our family's business, beginning with our ancestor Henry Matthaei in Germany in 1686.

In 1961 Charles Matthaei took over for his father. Later in the decade he decided to build a mill closer to the source of the grains on which the company depended. In 1968 he settled on Fargo, North Dakota, because of its location, the variety of available grains, and the quality of the workforce. A year later the new unit, Roman Meal Milling Company, opened its first mill. The parent company had ready access to oats, barley, rye, and hard red spring wheat, as well as other specialty grains and edible seeds harvested in the area. Also in 1969 cereal production was moved from Tacoma to the new mill.

The 1970s saw a third generation of the Matthaei family joining the company. After earning an undergraduate degree from the University of Washington and a master of business administration from the University of Denver, William L. Matthaei went to work for Roman Meal as an assistant regional marketing director in the Northeast, the beginning of a process to groom him to one day take over the business. It was a period of strong growth for Roman Meal as consumers became more health-conscious and interested in breads that did not just rely on flour. To take advantage of the situation, Roman Meal renegotiated its contracts with bakers to make more money available for marketing. In 1974 Roman Meal launched its first national advertising campaign. Television spots developed by the McCann-Erickson, Seattle advertising agency were primarily run on Wednesdays and Thursdays during the evening news on CBS and NBC. The marketing effort had the desired effect, spurring sales of Roman Meal bread to new heights.

Roman Meal continued to adjust to the changing diets of consumers. A cry for low-calorie breads in the 1970s led to the substitution of cellulose for flour. In the 1980s concern was paid to cholesterol, resulting in Roman Meal adding cholesterol-fighting oats to the mix. By the end of the decade, the company, to meet demand for high-fiber breads and light breads, was licensing bakeries to make Honey & Oat Bran and Oat Bran 'n Honey Light breads.


The 1990s brought a number of changes to the company. Roman Meal Milling, which was spun off as a separate company under William Matthaei's ownership, opened a second mill in Fargo in 1990. With the extra capacity it could now take on contract work in addition to Roman Meal responsibilities. In that same year William Matthaei took over as chief executive officer of Roman Meal while his 70-year-old father stayed on as chairman of the board. In addition, the elder Matthaei remained president of Roman Meal Co. of Japan and the Roman Meal Co. of Canada. Roman Meal also benefited from the introduction of the food pyramid by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a revision of its food group recommendations that increased the number of recommended daily servings of bread, cereal, rice, and pasta from six to 11. As a result, multigrain breads like Roman Meal increased in demand. In addition, the company introduced new whole grain cereals and new lines of crackers and rice cakes. The decade also saw consolidation in the baking industry, resulting in a drop in the number of Roman Meal licenses.

The whole grain bread category was flourishing at the start of the new century. Decades earlier white bread accounted for 90 to 95 percent of all sales, but now accounted for about 50 percent. Whereas Roman Meal had once been virtually alone in the category, it controlled a smaller share of a much larger, and rapidly growing, market. In addition to increased competition, Roman Meal had to contend with changes in distribution that prevented the company from taking full advantage of the boom in health-food sales. The company had always placed its breads on supermarket shelves, but by this time many of the sales of multigrain breads were made in natural-food stores, where the products of alternative bakers were more accepted than that of Roman Meal. Moreover, in the early 2000s Roman Meal had to contend with the popularity of low-carbohydrate diets that put a stop to the growth in bread sales, at least temporarily.


Dr. Robert Jackson founds Roman Meal Company.
The William Matthaei family acquires the business.
Charles Matthaei joins the company.
Charles Matthaei becomes president.
The Fargo, North Dakota, mill opens.
A second mill opens in Fargo.
A line of snack bars is introduced.

As part of an effort to revitalize the Roman Meal brand a new marketing director was brought inTodd Kluger, formerly the brand manager for Starbucks Corp. New packaging was introduced and product development received greater emphasis. The company also rededicated itself to its core market: 50- to 64-year-old women. In keeping with this philosophy, Roman Meal forged a relationship with the Red Hat Society, a group of one million older women who met in groups for tea and other social occasions, dressed in red hats (or pink hats should they fall below the 50-year-old threshold) and purple dresses. Roman Meal introduced three varieties of whole grain breads licensed by the Red Hat Society under the Ruby label: Ruby's Cranberry, Ruby's Apple Cinnamon, and Ruby's Raisin Spice varieties. Ads promoting the new line appeared in Red Hat Society's monthly magazine as well as national magazines such as Ladies Home Journal and Prevention. Roman Meal bakers, however, took some convincing to support the Ruby line, unaware of the Red Hat Society. Once executives became aware of the group they began to notice groups of women at restaurants wearing red hats and purple dresses and could now see the audience the program was targeting.

A score of other whole grain products were also in development. One idea that took shape was the development of a whole grain breakfast cookie. The cookie idea proved confusing to consumers in testing, and as a result the shape was changed to a rectangle and it was repositioned as a snack bar, a combination that resonated with consumers. In 2006 the Roman Meal snack bar was introduced in three flavors, with other varieties waiting in the wings.

Over the years, a number of large baking companies attempted to acquire Roman Meal, but there was no indication that the Matthaei family had any interest in selling. Nor was there doubt that Roman Meal would continue to find a way to make itself relevant in a category it had virtually invented a century earlier.

Ed Dinger


Roman Meal Milling Company Inc.


Flowers Foods, Inc.; Interstate Bakeries Corporation; Sara Lee Corporation.


Dahm, Lori, "Whole Grain Invigoration," Stagnito's New Products Magazine, August 2006, p. 34.

Dorich, Alan, "Aging Gracefully," Food and Drink, September/October 2006.

Lynn, Adam, "Man on Deck for Japan's Surrender," News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.), September 2, 2005, p. A1.

Malovany, Dan, "Hats Off to a New Attitude," Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery, June 2005, p. 24.

Tucker, Rob, "A Healthy Slice of Bread-Market Share," News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.), March 6, 1994, p. D1.

Wilhelm, Steve, "Tricky Times at Roman Meal," Puget Sound Business Journal, March 15, 2004.