Every April, WholeFoods Magazine gets into the award season mood with a little honor of our own called the Natural Choice Awards, now in its ninth year of honoring excellent natural products. Here, we show off our Clooneys and Streeps, our “Best Performance” and “Best New Artist,” with even a little “Best Supporting” thrown into the mix. This is our chance to spotlight some of the outstanding products and companies of the natural world, whether they are small or large, well-established or just getting off the ground. This year’s awards feature some relative newcomers and seasoned veterans, as well as an upset and a few legacies holding strong.

WholeFoods Natural Choice Award winners have our readers entirely to thank; winners were chosen through anonymous votes sent to us from natural product store retailers who told us what sold the best in their stores in all 15 categories this past year. Our editors tabulated the results and broke any ties by consulting our monthly What’s Selling column. Congratulations to all of our 2012 winners and runner-ups!

Some winners partied like rock stars when they found out they won, like Barlean’s, winner of the Herb category with their Olive Leaf Extract. “We rented out a giant hotel ballroom the night WholeFoods Magazine made the award announcements,” teases Andreas Koch, marketing director, “and had a victory party with a balloon drop, live band and shot off fireworks until hotel security shut us down at 3:46 a.m.”

Others were a little more low-key with their celebrating, and wished to thank the retailers who voted them into their respective victories, like NOW Foods, winning for its full line in the Supplements category: “To be chosen by independent health food retailers as the best full line is extremely satisfying,” says NOW Foods President Jim Emme. “NOW has always been committed to the independent health food retailer, and we work hard to give them what they need to be successful.”

And others feel winning has reinforced their mission for greatness. “Winning this award means we are delivering on our mission,” says Angie Hoagland, gluten free brand manager of Udi’s, winner of the Sensitive Diets category for its line of gluten-free breads. “It’s incredibly rewarding to know we make a difference to those living a gluten-free lifestyle.”

The same can be said for Bluebonnet, first time winner of the Sports category for its Whey Protein Isolate. “Our success as a company is a tribute to our commitment to quality and purity,” says Gary Barrows, president of Bluebonnet Nutrition Corp. “In fact, this award underscores that we are truly on the right track!”

We’d also like to thank all of our readers who participated in voting this year; without you, none of this would be possible. One retailer has been randomly selected from participating stores to win $50, so congratulations to Country Store of Sonora, CA! With that said, here are your selections for the Natural Choice Awards of 2012!

The Editors

Research and writing by Colleen Morrison

NOW Foods

This is the ninth year NOW Foods has won a Natural Choice award, and the fifth year in a row as the Supplement Full Line category winner! Says NOW Foods President Jim Emme, “This award reassures us that we are fulfilling our mission to provide value in products and services that empower people to lead healthier lives.” NOW is in its 43rd year of family-owned business, and manufactures over 1,500 products including vitamins, minerals, herbs, personal care products, dietary supplements and natural foods. Its facility has been GMP certified by the Natural Products Association since 2000, and in-house labs conduct stringent tests for ingredient identity, microbiological activity and heavy metals to allow for sensible pricing and high-quality products, says the company. NOW Foods’ mission is to empower people to lead healthier lives and, as evidenced by this award, they are succeeding.
395 S. Glen Ellyn Rd., Bloomingdale, IL 60108, www.nowfoods.com


Bluebonnet Nutrition, Whey Protein Isolate

This is Bluebonnet’s first Natural Choice award, but certainly won’t be the last if the company continues living up to the quality and purity of its 100% natural Whey Protein Isolate, says the company. The isolate is sourced from grass-fed cows in New Zealand that are not treated with antibiotics or recombinant bovine growth hormone. The company states that it uses the highest biological value whey protein isolate, as it has all the essential amino acids to sustain growth and development and also contains naturally occurring immunoglobins to help support immune health. The powder is free from fat, artificial flavors or unnatural sweeteners (stevia is used in the French Vanilla, Chocolate, Strawberry and Mixed Berry flavors, while Natural Original is unsweetened) and is low in carbohydrates, cholesterol, sodium and microbes and contaminants often found in other protein formulas.
12915 Dairy Ashford, Sugar Land, TX 77478, www.bluebonnetnutrition.com


Garden of Life, fücoThin

No stranger to our Natural Choice Award list, this is Garden of Life’s seventh award and fifth time in a row winning the Supplement Weight Loss category, four of those years won by this year’s winning product, fücoThin. The weight-loss supplement is made with fucoxanthin, an antioxidant that protects cells from free-radical damage, and pomegranate to create a naturally thermogenic formula. Thermogenesis helps the body utilize fat as an energy fuel. fücoThin supports metabolism without stimulating the nervous system, and is derived from marine algae. Pomegranate fruit seeds provide a source of oil with a unique fatty acid composition that works to support natural thermogenesis.
5500 Village Blvd., Ste. 202, W. Palm Beach, FL 33407, www.gardenoflife.com


Nature’s Plus, T MALE

Although a nine-time winner, this is Nature’s Plus’ first win in the Specialty Supplement category for its T MALE supplement. Featuring nutrients, fruit polyphenols, high-potency zinc aspartate, calcium fructate and fenugreek, T MALE helps support healthy, natural testosterone levels in men by helping to strengthen the body’s natural hormone-producing systems and tissues. Also included is ViNitrox, a blend of grape and apple concentrates that have a high polyphenol content, which helps the body combat free radicals specifically caused by reduced testosterone levels. According to the company, T MALE is beneficial because testosterone influences male physiology, and promotes strength, endurance, stamina, energy, mood, sexual function and libido, among other functions.
548 Broadhollow Rd., Melville, NY 11747, www.naturesplus.com


 Barlean’s, Olive Leaf Complex

Barlean’s scores its third Natural Choice win with Olive Leaf Complex. The liquid extract is made from freshly picked olive leaves and pressed within minutes to preserve its nutritional potency. Immune support is provided through the anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties of the extract, the benefits of which have been used since the time of the ancient Egyptians, according to the company. The Barlean’s team of experts spent 10 years traveling across 12 countries and researching 60 olive tree varieties to find the best Olea europaea trees to use for its product. The extract has double the antioxidant strength of green tea and 400% more than what is found in vitamin C, says Barlean’s. The throat-spray comes in two flavors—natural and peppermint—and is packaged in 1.5-, 8- and 16-oz bottles.
4936 Lake Terrell Rd., Ferndale, WA 98248, www.barleans.com

Nature’s Plus, Animal Parade

This is Nature’s Plus’ second win this year, this time for the thrice-winning children’s supplement Animal Parade line, the undefeated champion of the Children’s Supplement category since it was introduced in 2010. Nature’s Plus attributes this success to appealing to both children and adults with vibrant colors, taste and quality nutrition. The line includes shake mixes, chewables, gummies, liquids, lozenges and tooth gels in a variety of flavors (such as black cherry, grape, watermelon and bubblegum) and specific functions like dental health, sleep support, probiotic and multivitamins, among others. All products include essential vitamins and minerals needed for growing bodies; for example, the Gummies in assorted fruit flavors provide 20 essential vitamins and minerals and 14 whole foods in just one serving of two animal-shaped gummies.
548 Broadhollow Rd., Melville, NY 11747, www.naturesplus.com



Bragg Live Food Products, Apple Cider Vinegar

Three-time winner Bragg Live Food Products takes it home again in the Organic Food category for its unfiltered, unheated and unpasteurized organic apple cider vinegar. Dating back to 400 B.C., Hippocrates lauded the health qualities of apple cider, says the company. Some of these qualities that can be found in Bragg’s Organic Raw Apple Cider include helping to maintain healthy, youthful skin and bodies along with helping to ease muscle pain after exercising; supporting immune and digestive health; maintaining a healthy weight; and soothing dry throats while helping to relieve the body of toxins. This cider is both kosher and organic certified, and does not need refrigeration. Bragg’s suggests using its cider vinegar on salads, veggies and even popcorn. This third-year win coincides with the 100th anniversary of the company!
Box 7, Santa Barbara, CA 93102, www.bragg.com



Daiya Foods, Cheese Style Shreds

Daiya Foods is a new contender this year, scoring its first gold with vegan shredded cheeses. In Sanskrit, Dayaa means, “loving, kindness and compassion,” something the company takes to heart while creating dairy-free, vegan alternatives everyone can enjoy. Daiya’s Cheese Style Shreds bring vegans the pleasure of biting into a gooey grilled cheese or digging into a hot bowl of macaroni & cheese without having to worry about breaking their diets. The three flavor styles of Shreds (cheddar, mozzarella and pepperjack) are cholesterol, trans-fat and GMO free. They are also free of common allergens, including dairy (casein, whey and lactose), soy, gluten, eggs, peanuts and tree nuts, with coconut also excluded.
2768 Rupert St., Vancouver, BC Canada, V5M 3T7, www.daiyafoods.com

Udi’s Gluten Free, Breads

Udi’s comes out on top for the second year in a row with its award-winning gluten-free breads, which the company attributes to the open conversation it has with customers wherein the firm listens and responds to bring joy to those living a gluten-free lifestyle. The gluten-free breads cover the spectrum: buns (both hamburger and hot dog), bagels, pizza crust and, of course, sliced loaves are counted among Udi’s gluten-free catalog. Varieties of sliced bread include omega flax and fiber, cinnamon raisin, white (the original), whole-grain and millet-chia. All breads are made naturally with no additional fillers, contain nutrients and vitamins, and are naturally gluten-free with the help of ancient grains like chia.
12000 E. 47 Ave., #400, Denver, CO 80239, www.udisglutenfree.com



KIND aims to be “KIND to your body, your tastes buds and the world,” and kindly marks this as its second win for its nutrition bars. The flavors for the KIND Bars not only sound decadent and delicious, but every ingredient is added with a specific, healthy intention in mind. These flavors include Dark Chocolate (known for being a good source of antioxidants) Cherry Cashew, Apple Cinnamon (cinnamon being a helper in blood sugar regulation) & Pecan, Blueberry Pecan + Fiber, Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate + Protein and Pomegranate (a rich source of vitamin C) and Blueberry Pistachio + Antioxidants. Each bar contains 170–190 calories with about four grams of fiber and three to seven grams of protein, all without containing GMOs, hydrogenated oils, gluten and wheat.

Zevia, Sodas

Zevia gets the gold in the Beverage category for its line of sodas, knocking the five-time champion GT’s Kombucha down to runner up. Zevia attributes its success to “soda made better” than what you’d expect from a soft drink. The sodas come in 12 flavors including Cola, Cream Soda, Grapefruit Citrus and Ginger Root Beer, are sweetened by stevia, and the few that provide a little buzz have caffeine derived naturally from coffee. They do not contain gluten, MSG or GMOs, and have little to no sodium in each serving. The company uses aluminum cans because aluminum is two times more likely to be recycled than plastic, even though plastic would have been the cheaper choice.
10200 Culver Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232, www.zevia.com


derma e Natural Bodycare, Full Line

This is derma e Natural Bodycare’s second win for its full line of skincare products, a line that offers more than 90 items that aim to reduce signs of aging and restore and improve overall skin health with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and botanicals. These products include exfoliants, masks, body lotions, facial cleansers, toner and moisturizers with anti-aging ingredients like astaxanthin, pycnogenol, DMAE, peptides and hyaluronic acid. All products are free of parabens, phthalates, sodium lauryl sulfates, petrolatum, mineral oil and artificial colors, and are 100% vegan and cruelty-free. All product containers are recyclable and manufactured with 100% wind energy. A percentage from all product sales is donated to The Paraguay Project in an effort to help bring aid to the people of Paraguay.
4485 Runway St., Simi Valley, CA 93063, www.dermae.com

Mill Creek Botanicals, Biotin Shampoo

Retailers this year voted again for Mill Creek’s Biotin Shampoo as the answer to haircare needs. The key ingredient is the biotin, a water-soluble B-complex vitamin that Mill Creek calls a “super supplement” as it helps to replenish important nutrients lost during the day in the hair and scalp. Other ingredients include more B-complex vitamins, keratin, jojoba, herbs and proteins and aloe vera, with an addition of peppermint oil to invigorate and stimulate the scalp. The shampoo comes in 16-oz. bottles, and is free of parabens, SLS/SLES, propylene glycol and artificial colors and fragrances. Mill Creek advises using the shampoo daily for optimally healthy-looking hair and full-bodied texture.
2951 Marion Dr., Ste. 121, Las Vegas, NV 89115, www.millcreekusa.com


Natracare, Tampons

Natracare ropes in the Personal Care category again this year for its now two-time winning, all-natural tampons, making this the company’s fourth Natural Choice award overall. According to Natracare, it was the first to introduce fully certified organic cotton tampons, and helped create a successful, natural feminine product market for women who were not comfortable with the standard chlorine bleached, rayon choices of the past. Synthetic materials, skin irritants and unnecessary chemicals and additives will not be found in these tampons; these are biodegradable and compostable, chlorine free, GM free, vegetarian society approved and certified to the global organic textiles standard. Depending on personal preference and need, applicator and applicator-free styles are available.
3620 W. 10th St., Unit B #406, Greeley, CO 80634, www.natracare.com



PetGuard, Full Line

The undefeated PetGuard takes the gold again for the third year in the Pet Product category with its full line of products, an honor the company has achieved since the category was introduced in 2010. PetGuard bases its success on two ideals: creating the highest quality product in the marketplace and providing the best professional service for its customers. While mainstream pet food may contain animal by-products, artificial coloring and flavors and chemical preservatives, PetGuard’s full line of dog and cat foods, treats and supplements leave all of these unwanted additives out to provide customers with a natural product. PetGuard knows its customers would not want to feed their families food with questionable origins, and want to treat their pets with the same respect when it comes to feeding and maintaining them for a long, healthy life.
P.O. Box 668, Green Cove Springs, FL 32043, www.petguard.com


Published in WholeFoods Magazine, April 2012