Whole Foods Magazine names GreenAcres Market 2014 Retailer of the Year

WICHITA — Diehard fans of GreenAcres Market have been concerned for the 20-year old, 7-store chain as major competitors such as Whole Foods Market and Natural Grocers have entered the area and smaller vitamin and supplement chains have expanded here.

Perhaps in a sign that it’s not going anywhere, though, GreenAcres has snared a major industry award from Whole Foods Magazine. The magazine, which has no relation to Whole Foods Market, has named GreenAcres the 2014 Retailer of the Year.

“We can’t believe we got it,” GreenAcres co-owner Barb Hoffmann says. “We didn’t have a clue we were even in the running.”

Hoffmann says the magazine is geared to 20,000 other stores like hers.

“It’s the No. 1 magazine in our industry,” she says. “Out of 20,000 stores, we were exceptionally excited.”

Hoffmann, who owns the store with her husband, John, daughter, Shannon, and store manager Matt Murray, didn’t set out to be in the natural foods business.

She and her husband own the plant store Tropical Designs, and some heavy lifting she did there along with in her personal life years ago injured her back.

“I started originally in this industry because I had a real pain problem, and so I got into alternative health and then that got us into natural food stores,” Hoffmann says.

“At that time, they were really big in supplements and you didn’t see that many groceries because here in the Midwest, we’re just a little slower than everybody else for people to catch on,” she says.

“Since I had lost my health … I started reading everything I could get my hands on. As I became knowledgeable, that’s one of the reasons we wanted to open (the store) because we wanted to help others.”

She says they did their homework.

“John and I traveled everywhere and looked at all the stores that have made a mark in our industry,” Hoffmann says.

“Our big dream was could we ever be that?” she says. “So we kept forging forward, and we got more and more into groceries. They started tasting better and better. We developed a real business because we had people coming in every day with gluten-free problems, with food sensitivities, and they were looking for answers, so that in turn sent us into discovering our real niche.”

That’s the store’s deli. Hoffmann says deli dishes don’t have refined flours or sugars or high-fructose corn syrup. She says many of the dishes are vegan, gluten-free or peanut-free.

“We use as much organic as possible,” she says. “So people know they can come here and trust us.”

Hoffmann says the special ingredients can lead to higher prices, but she says it’s worth it.

“We had the attitude, why be in this industry if we’re not going to be authentic?” she says.

After all the research and years of work, Hoffmann says “now here it is 20 years later and our industry has given us the No. 1 retailer of the year award. We feel extremely humbled and extremely appreciative of this award.”

Hoffmann says the magazine looks at a number of things when choosing a winner.

“They just asked us all about our business. How we do it. How we’ve been successful.”

Hoffmann says she thinks her chain’s growth is a factor.

“We have a really strong growth going right now.”

In addition to stores in Wichita and Kansas City, Mo., GreenAcres acquired five Whole Foods Association stores last year.

Hoffmann says she’s not worried about competition.

“Actually, it kind of brings the awareness up,” she says of having more natural food stores. “It makes us fine tune who we are, that we’re about education and community.”

She says her original Wichita store grew by 10 percent in the last year and that the Kansas City store grew by 14 percent. Now, Hoffmann wants to add more stores and become a Midwest chain.

Hoffmann says GreenAcres is in good company in winning the award.

“Whole Foods Market got the award eight years ago,” she says. “All the big stores have gotten it.”

Though Hoffmann says she’s “shocked” and “thrilled” at the award, she says the most important thing to her is helping others with her stores, and she says she thinks the magazine recognized that.

“We focus on making a difference,” Hoffmann says. “I think that’s probably what they look for the most.”