America's Best Food Stocks

By Aryeh Katz | September 22, 2010 AAA

Consumer staples are, by definition, businesses that produce those products we just can't live without. Things like food, beverages, hygiene items and other household necessities, like first aid product and beer. It stands to reason, then, that these stocks should also have tremendous long-term growth records. (To learn more, see A Guide To Investing In Consumer Staples.)

With that in mind we searched the field and focused on three big-name food producers. Specifically, companies that have at least 10 years of history behind them and reasonable current fundamentals. Their product lines will be familiar to most, but perhaps their valuations aren't. Here they are with recent, salient news items to bring you up-to-date.

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American Pie Starch
ConAgra Foods, Inc. (NYSE:CAG), based in Omaha Nebraska, is one of the country's biggest potato and sweet potato suppliers to the restaurant, food service and commercial food production industries. The stock pays shareholders a reasonable 3.7% dividend and trades with a price/earnings ratio of 13.

This summer, ConAgra purchased American Pie, LLC - a private company that makes frozen desserts - and sold off much of its holdings in Gilroy Foods & Flavors.

CAG stock is down 5% in the last 12 months. This is a poor showing compared with the rest of the sector, represented by the PowerShares Dynamic Food & Beverage ETF (NYSE:PBJ). That ETF is up 17.5% over the same period. Against the broader SPDR S&P 500 ETF (NYSE:SPY), a proxy for the popular big-cap index, ConAgra still trails. Shares of SPY have climbed 7% in the last year.

Long term, however, ConAgra is a clear winner. Since it went public 32 years ago the stock is up 4846%, or an annualized 151% per year.

Dow Component
Kraft Foods, Inc. (NYSE:KFT) joined the illustrious Dow Jones Industrial Average in September of 2008, the depths of the last stock market wipeout. The company's shares deliver a fine 3.7% dividend and trade with a P/E of 18.29. Shares in Kraft are up 17.3% in the last year's trade.

Kraft's product line includes the nutritious and savory Oscar Mayer meat line, Oreo cookies and macaroni lovers' Kraft Dinner.

Cal-Maine Foods, Inc. (Nasdaq:CALM) sells eggs - over 800 million dozen per year. CALM stock pays 3.8% annually, trades with a P/E of 10.94 and was up better than 12% on the last year. Since its IPO in 1996, the shares have climbed an average of 51% per year.

The Wrap
Eating your way rich, is one way to describe participation in the fortunes of these companies. Over the long haul, there are few stocks as delectable.

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