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.
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"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."