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Global Food-Giant Buyouts of Top Organic Brands

The organic foods business has gone so far beyond wheat sprouts and fresh pressed juices that Whole Foods Market, WFM,is close to breaking into the top half of the Fortune 500 rankings of America’s largest companies.

Sales of organic food and beverages grew 9.6 percent in 2011 to $29.22 billion, according to the Organic Trade Association’s Organic Industry Survey.

The organic category now accounts for 4.2 percent of all U.S. food sales, with organic products available in about three of four food stores in the nation, according to the Department of Agriculture.

Consumer demand for organically produced goods has shown double-digit growth for well over a decade, according to the USDA, which now has an entire section devoted to the subjecton its website.

Investors who might want to ride the organic wave have a few pure-play options.

Along with Whole Foods there are two other food-market chains, Fresh Market,FM,and Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage,NGVC,which went public in July, as well as the food processor Hain Celestial,HAIN,which owns dozens of popular brands.

Traditional supermarket chains, such as Kroger,KRand Safeway,WY,as well as warehouse players such as Costco Wholesale,COST,have jumped into the business, introducing their own organic bands.

Major food and beverage companies have done the same but have also taken an acquisitive approach, buying many of the famous, trend-setting brands started by entrepreneurs as far back as the 1970s.

Here is a list of organic brands and/or companies that global food giants have acquired, directly or through a subsidiary. (Some acquisitions involved companies that had made acquisitions of their own or were previously purchased by another firm.)

Not all of the top players, however, have entered the market; others have barely touched it; still others are not publicly traded. Thus, we're highlighting the companies with the most prolific, competitive and strategic activity that might be of interest to investors.

(Global ranking and sales data are from Food Engineering Magazine.)

By CNBC.com

Published Oct. 8, 2012

Photo: Kate Wittkamp | Digital Vision | Getty Images