Dividend investors would be wise to focus not just on a stock's current yield, but also on the long-term growth potential of its dividends. That's because strong businesses that consistently raise their dividend payouts reward shareholders with a steadily rising income stream that essentially equates to a raise every year. And, well, who doesn't like a raise?

But there are other reasons to value dividend growth so highly, and they're well supported by research. For instance, a study by C. Thomas Howard, published in Advisor Perspectives, found that, for every percentage point a stock's yield rises, its annual return increases by 0.22 percentage points if it's a large cap, 0.25 if it's a mid cap, and 0.46 if it's a small cap.

Even better, Howard found that dividend-growing stocks outperformed dividend cutters by 10 percentage points per year from 1973 to 2010, and beat both flat- and no-dividend stocks. And the icing on the cake is that Howard showed that this outperformance came with a third less volatility. Higher returns, less volatility-induced stress, and a steadily growing income stream -- three powerful aspects of dividend growth investing that can help you grow your wealth.

With that in mind, here are five elite businesses that are likely to grow their dividends substantially in the years ahead:

Source: thewaltdisneycompany.com. 

Disney (NYSE:DIS) has built a vast collection of timeless brands. From Pixar to Marvel to Star Wars, Disney has shrewdly acquired a host of iconic characters and story lines to combine with its own beloved namesake properties. The company excels at strengthening these brands and monetizing them through its global marketing and distribution machine. In the process, it generates a seemingly never-ending stream of licensing revenue.

Disney's empire also includes hard-to-replicate assets such as its popular amusement parks, and crown jewel ESPN, whose ubiquitous sports programming and stranglehold on cable profits once caused Businessweek to label it the Everywhere Sports Profit Network. Together, these assets help Disney generate strong and growing cash flows that it then returns to shareholders in the form of share buybacks and steadily rising dividends.

That's an excellent formula for market outperformance. And although shares are trading near all-time highs, I expect Disney to substantially outpace the market in the years -- and potentially decades -- to come.

Source: Dominos.com. 

Domino's Pizza (NYSE:DPZ) is the recognized world leader in pizza delivery. Its mostly franchise-owned pizza shops delivered more than 400 million pizzas last year, cooked up in 11,000 stores in the U.S., and more than 70 international markets. Domino's growing store base has led to steadily expanding gross, operating, and net margins in recent years. Its mostly franchised-based model results in high returns on invested capital of more than 80%.

These strong returns allow Domino's to generate a significant amount of free cash flow, which the company has been returning to shareholders in the form of share repurchases and rising dividend payments. Looking ahead, I expect more of the same, as Domino's Pizza continues to grow its share of the massive global pizza market, with its tremendous international expansion opportunities fueling years of profitable growth.

Source: Nike.com. 

Nike (NYSE:NKE), the world's leading provider of athletic apparel, has a renowned brand, and innovative culture trusted by athletes and their millions of fans. The company is well positioned to benefit from the emerging global middle class, as more and more people around the world strive to live healthier and more active lives.

This marketing titan shows no signs of slowing down, with fiscal first-quarter 2015 revenue increasing 15% year over year, and earnings per share surging 27%. Even better, management sees a host of untapped growth opportunities ahead. As Nike seizes these profit opportunities and finds new ways to expand its global sports apparel empire, shareholders should continue to be rewarded with larger dividend payments.


Source: Starbucks.com. 

Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) is the dominant brand among coffeehouses in the United States and, increasingly, around the globe. The coffee giant's international operations are performing well, with its EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa) segment showing signs of a rebound, and Starbuck's recently announcing plans to accelerate its growth in China.

Starbucks is also taking more control over the customer experience by bringing many of the product lines sold in its cafes in-house. From La Boulange bakery products to Evolution Fresh juices to yogurt, thanks to its new partnership with Danone, Starbucks is taking action to improve the quality of its offerings. I think that will help drive significant same-store sales growth at its cafes, as well as dividend increases for its shareholders.


Source: Whole Foods Market®. 

Whole Foods Market (NASDAQ:WFM) is far more than simply a premium-priced grocery store -- it's fast becoming a premium lifestyle brand, and has earned a reputation as a purveyor of some of the healthiest foods and beverages on the market at a time when consumers are caring more and more about what they put into their bodies.

Although its share price has come under pressure in the past year due to investor fears of increased competition and margin concerns, I believe Whole Foods' will weather the storm. Its strong competitive position in the natural and organic foods market, and increased focus on delivering more value to its customers, should lead to sustained growth in Whole Foods' store count, revenue, profits, and ultimately, the dividends it pays to shareholders.