Companies that provide basic, can't-live-without-'em items often make great long-term investments. But investors frequently overlook the most fundamental companies when they seek out these types of stocks. Here we look at a few companies that are even more basic than grocery stores, homebuilders or steel companies - they provide the essential raw ingredients that enable all the other business to do what they do. Plus, even during the Great Recession, these companies continued to operate without much interruption, and are likely to continue their strong performance well into the future. (For more on the effects of the recent recession, see 5 Lessons From The Recession.)

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Society's Most Fundamental Ingredient?
As the name implies, Corn Products International (NYSE:CPO) makes and sells various corn-based food ingredients to customers all over the world. Its products include fructose syrups, oils, corn starches and other corn-based food products. These ingredients are essential in the production of things such as salad dressings, carbonated beverages, cooking oils, and pet food. The company has been in business for over 100 years and it's not hard to understand why.

In addition to food ingredients, other industries that rely on corn products include the pharmaceutical, paper and animal feed industries. Corn and its derivative products are absolutely essential. The company's stock looks good too: despite being up 33% over the past 52 weeks, CPO trades at less than 13 times forward earnings. Over the past 10 years, shares have appreciated by more than 240%, while the market remained virtually flat. Archer Daniels Midland (NYSE:ADM), the $20 billion giant in the space, has also been a standout performer with a near 300% share price appreciation, but ADM has a much broader business line, which includes storing and transporting agricultural products, so it fails to provide the pure play exposure CPO offers.

Speaking of Food
Seeing as food is the most basic human need, it's no surprise that Balchem (NYSE:BCPC) continues to demonstrate strong operating performance. The company provides specialty performance ingredients and products for the food, nutritional, feed, pharmaceutical and medical sterilization industries in the United States and internationally. Sales and profits have increased every single year during the past 10, including during the Great Recession years. And this company's products are not discretionary. Balchem's impressive operational record is reflected in the stock price, which fetches 29 times earnings, but investors don't seem to be abandoning the shares. (For more, see Prepare Your Portfolio For Higher Food Costs.)

The largest food and pharmaceutical companies need the specialty ingredients Balchem produces to maintain the quality and shelf life of their products. Most importantly, products from Balchem, along with corn products and other important food additives, often constitute a very trivial portion of the costs that go into the products made. So for customers like Kraft (NYSE:KFT) and Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO), the expenditures on these products are not even an issue.

Boring But Good
These companies may not have the sexy glamor of high-growth glamor stocks, but the stability and necessity of their businesses mean they should continue to maintain a stable operating record for years to come. (For related reading, see 22 Ways To Fight Rising Food Prices.)

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