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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Pet products are a big deal. So much so that a slew of “big box” retail outlets are devoted to the business of pet ownership. But pet dollars can still be captured at natural retail by properly presenting safe, healthful offerings and the right variety of products to suit the needs of the most common pets.

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A peanut butter sandwich on whole-wheat bread, washed down with a nice tall glass of cold milk sounds like a delicious and healthy lunch for kids and adults alike. Unfortunately, for nearly 15 million Americans today, that meal could lead to severe health consequences. Peanut, wheat and dairy allergies and intolerances are becoming more and more commonplace; between 1997 and 2011, food allergies among children spiked 50% (1). Though there are many theories as to why they are becoming more prevalent, a direct cause is still unknown. But the fact is, for those with peanut allergies, dairy intolerances or gluten sensitivities, these conditions are very real and can disrupt and even threaten their daily lives.

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Terms like gourmet, delectable and healthful converge in the healthy indulgences category, where consumer demand is growing and product makers are innovating. To stay on top of this market, take heed of these trends and marketing perspectives.

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Your mission: Make a 30-minute meal from scratch that’s flavorful, unique and cost-effective without piling on unhealthy fats, sweeteners or too much sodium. Your secret weapon? Herbs and spices!

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Demand for natural products is as strong as ever, according to data collected in the 36th Annual WholeFoods Retailer Survey. Independent stores that participated in this year’s survey had a strong showing in 2013, selling a combined $741 million throughout their more than 1.24 million ft2 of total retail space. Most stores reported gains this year, and businesses are optimistic about the outlook for 2014, all excellent news for those who value the expertise and unique flavor that independent stores contribute to the natural and organic supplements, grocery, HABA and home products industries.

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It happens nearly every day: you’ve eaten lunch, dinner isn’t for another three hours and your stomach starts rumbling. Time to grab a quick snack! But looking at the vending machine in your office, all you see are potato chips fried in genetically modified oils and candy bars that are just chocolate-covered sugar with a side of artificial flavorings. If you and your shoppers are like millions of others today, these options just aren’t good enough anymore. You’re hungry for something healthy.

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Each sector of the drink industry brings its own excitement, including tales of success, growth and obstacles overcome. In sharing with you their window onto the beverage landscape, these insiders and entrepreneurs will help bring you up to date on the state of the healthy beverage market.

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Everybody needs omega fatty acids, so luckily, today’s market has something to suit all lifestyles and preferences. “It is clear that, for non-fish-eating meat-eaters, vegetarians and vegans, vegetable sources of omega-3 are the best option,” says Carolina Chica, manager of nutrition research and regulatory issues for Proprietary Nutritionals, Inc., Kearny, NJ.

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