HARLOWTON, Mont. – Alicia Moe, current owner of Cream of the West, says her company began with a ranch wife, ground up roasted wheat and a traveling salesman.
Legend has it a salesman was traveling the dirt roads of Montana in 1914. He somehow ended up at the breakfast table of a ranch family outside of Molt where the wife served him a bowl of roasted wheat she had ground up in her coffee grinder. The salesmen declared the hot breakfast cereal delicious and set out to share it with others.
Like any good tale, specific dates and individuals involved in the discovery of this nostalgic breakfast staple are sometimes disputed and lost to the folds of history. Regardless, for over the last 100 years, Cream of the West has remained a Montana product through and through.
Moe became part owner in the company in 2002 when she, her husband, and a handful of other community-centered families, were looking for a way to revitalize the economy around the small Montana town of Harlowton.
“Harlowton had been a railroad town and it was very active. The Milwaukee Railroad pulled out in 1980 and then Harlowton became an agricultural center, but it struggled economically. A group of us began looking for something that would be a fit and help the economy of our little town in the late 1990s,” Moe explained.
Long story made short, the group founded Cream of the West, a viable hot cereal company with an iconic brand that was completely Montana sourced. They took a chance, bought the business and moved its entire operation to Harlowton where it has remained ever since.
Cream of the West is most notably known for their hot cereal varieties, all of which are made from 100 percent whole grains. They offer a Roasted Wheat, Roasted 7-Grain, Roasted Ranch Oat and an Organic 7-Grain. The varieties are packaged in simple cardboard boxes with a stoic cowboy motif, a tradition the company started in 1918. The only exception is the Organic 7-grain, Cream of the West’s newest product. That box proudly displays a cowgirl.
In addition to the hot cereal lineup, Cream of the West offers a 7-Grain Flapjack Mix, a Seasoned Breading Mix and a healthy snack mix known as Montana Crunch. And yes, all of these product packages feature a cowboy as well. It’s no wonder Cream of the West has come to be known as “the cowboy cereal.”
Cream of the West currently employs seven people, all of whom call Harlowton home. The company gets its wheat from Montana Milling, located in Conrad, and Grain Craft, which is located in Billings. Grain Craft, originally known as Cereal Foods, was the original supplier for Cream of the West.
The grain is bought raw and in bulk from the mills and transported to Harlowton where it is transformed.
“We toast and tumble the grain, which brings out that whole grain flavor, and then we package them up for distribution,” explained Moe.
Moe has a deep passion for Montana products and has worked hard to promote not only Cream of the West, but other Montana based food products. The Cream of the West company offers a “Taste of Harlo” gift basket which includes Cream of the West products as well as honey and coffee, both of which are produced right there in the tiny Montana town of Harlowton.
“There are a lot of little Montana towns that make delicious food products. Montana is definitely an entrepreneurial state,” Moe stated.
Currently, Cream of the West products can be found in most Montana grocery stores, as well as in special attractions like Yellowstone Park’s lodges and Big Sky Resort. Additionally, Cream of the West can be bought on Amazon. The company started selling their product on the online superstore three years ago and their sales have grown every year. Certain hotel chains in Montana also offer Cream of the West as a part of their breakfast buffet, which has encouraged direct sales of the product as well.
The Cream of the West products and company values certainly speak for themselves. Adhering to the adage “what’s old is new again,” Cream of the West is proving that simple, wholesome ingredients are not some new aged phenomenon, but rather a tried and true tradition.
A product that started out being served on a breakfast table in Molt has spanned generations and continues to speak to the power of small towns and the quality of Montana agriculture.