Imagine owning and operating a company along with those closest to you.

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The momentum for the organic food movement is strong, and figures to remain that way—so much so that many consumers may begin to buy organic products almost by default, as it just seems to be the thing to do these days. With such a high profile, and more people being brought into the organic fold every day, the industry’s collective message about the benefits and unique qualities of organic food becomes more important than ever.

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In designing our series on Natural Success Stories, we at WholeFoods Magazine needed to come up with ways to categorize success within the natural products industry. We quickly realized that most within the industry would measure it by the positive impact made on other people’s lives. Natural, healthful products are, of course, a beneficial presence in the lives of many. But companies that focus great effort and resources on those in special need fill out the rest of the positive impact equation.

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Nearly all parents would do just about anything for their children, and that includes feeding them the best that stores have to offer. In fact, 47% of parents make sure at least half of the food they load into their grocery carts is organic (1). So says the Organic Trade Association’s newly released U.S. Families’ Organic Attitudes & Beliefs 2014 Tracking Study, which surveyed more than 1,200 families with at least one child under 18.

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Not long ago, access to natural dietary supplements, gluten-free foods and organic produce in the Midwestern United States was extremely limited. It was here, in an area mainly barren of these options for health and wellness, where Barbara Hoffmann and her husband, John, decided to build an oasis for natural products shoppers.

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What’s old has become new with ancient grains capturing the attention of shoppers nationwide. From freekeh to millet, Americans see the value of ancient grains in their diets, and manufacturers are responding with exciting offerings.

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There’s a transformation underway in the natural retailing community. After decades of strong leadership, many pioneering retailers are scaling back their duties or passing the reins of their stores to the next generation of retailers—some family members, others young entrepreneurs. At the same time, we’re seeing stores grow from the ground up under the guidance of young owners who are new to natural or retailing or both.

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If any consumer today feels that food is not a means of improving their lives, they are in a distinct minority. Data from the Natural Marketing Institute indicate nearly four out of five people believe “healthy foods and beverages can be used to increase the quality of their lives” (1). This explains the current zeal for what functional foods, from nutritious greens to probiotic-infused cookies, have to offer.

Here, grab a glimpse of who is buying functional foods, what they’re buying, and how they’re learning about their options.

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The ballots are in. The votes are tallied. And now without further ado, we are thrilled to share with you the winners of the 2014 WholeFoods Natural Choice Awards.

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All signs point to a continued rise in interest in alternative diets. A 2012 study from the Vegetarian Resource Group found that 2.5% of U.S. consumers self-identified as “vegan,” up from 1% since as recently as 2009 (1). Couple this with the documented decline in meat consumption, and it is clear that widespread dietary changes are afoot. Raw food-centered lifestyles also continue to garner interest. In each of these areas, food companies are stepping up to the plate to turn curious shoppers into loyal customers through marketing and innovation.

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