There are two things that people never leave behind at a potluck: their kids and their Tupperware. Seriously, have you ever seen anyone repark the car to fetch the lid to the "Tall Entree" GladWare container they brought to the party?
Tupperware (NYSE: TUP ) is more than just some plastic container to keep leftovers fresh for the next couple of days. It's such an icon of its product category that -- like Kleenex, Xerox, and Band-Aid -- "Tupperware" has become a synonym for any old food storage container.
Like Avon (NYSE: AVP ) , Tupperware distributes its wares via the old-school direct-seller model. But unlike Avon -- which we panned on a recent episode of Stock Picks With Chicks -- Tupperware has stayed fresh no matter what the economy's temperature.
Not so Americana after all
The Tupperware brand may seem as American as apple pie saved for later, but the modern-day Tupperware Lady (or "demonstrator," in the company's parlance) isn't the same one who served finger foods and cocktails in the 1950s when home parties became the company's main distribution system.
The lion's share of Tupperware's business is overseas. Tupperware North America represents only 14% of sales and 10% of profit, while Tupperware Europe (including Europe, the Mid-East, and Africa) comprises the company's biggest division, representing 35% of sales and 44% of profit.
But it is Tupperware's presence in emerging markets that makes us take note of this stock. China, India, and Indonesia house half the world's population, and Tupperware's salad spinners and burping bowls are wending their way into kitchens across these lands.
The key word is emerging; now that people in such developing nations are gaining income, they're also gaining resources like refrigeration and the wherewithal to store leftover food for later, and that's where Tupperware comes in.
Keep the lid on
For what could be considered a quiet company forgotten in the back of the fridge, Tupperware can be surprising. Over the past 12 months, revenue jumped an impressive 12.3% and profit surged 46.2%. Meanwhile, it's been paying out dividends since 1996, and its dividend yield is currently 2.6%.
Even though Tupperware buzz seems to have quieted down since its heyday decades ago, in 2009, a whopping 16.5 million Tupperware parties took place.
One red flag investors should be aware of is its total debt-to-capital ratio of 62.2%. Still, the fact that revenue is growing briskly offsets discomfort with its debt level.
Other brands fighting over your leftovers
There are a few risks to keep in mind.
Walk into any grocer or discounter and you'll find inexpensive food storage solutions from companies like Clorox (NYSE: CLX ) subsidiary Glad and S.C. Johnson's Ziploc. They may not have the quality or durability of a Tupperware container (and they certainly don't have Tupperware's lifetime guarantee), but they are cheap and convenient.
Also, any direct seller can be considered a Tupperware rival, since these rely on the social element of throwing parties for customers, but people have only so much time and money to dedicate to such events. Therefore, you could consider Avon and other direct-selling companies like Berkshire Hathaway's (NYSE: BRK-B ) (NYSE: BRK-A ) Pampered Chef competitors, too.
Tupperware's expansion into beauty products might be a distraction for management; it's a crowded space and it's not Tupperware's core competency. Still, the plastic storage containers we all know and love continue to represent 65% of product sales and 78% of profit.
A fresh investment
Overall, Tupperware looks like a frugally priced stock that's underappreciated by investors. What may look like a leftover from yesterday may have totally retained its freshness.
More investing ideas from the Stock-Picking Chicks: