3 Food Companies That Could Boost Your Portfolio Returns

The demand for ready-to-eat foods has increased more than ever because of today's fast and busy lifestyles. Packaged food products have experienced higher sales than the other retail grocery store segments, and demand is expected to rise further. The industry is projected to expand by almost 15% between 2010 and 2015. In 2015, it is expected that sales will exceed $92.7 billion. Almost all of the industry players are expanding their operations because of this projected expansion, either through organic growth or acquisition-based growth.

Manufacturer TreeHouse Foods  (NYSE: THS  )  has made two purchase agreements in 2013. In its latest agreement, the company has announced plans to acquire Associated Brands, a private-label manufacturer of powdered drinks, specialty teas, and sweeteners. Associated Brands' dry mix categories, including powdered drinks, oatmeal, and side dishes, complement TreeHouse's portfolio. TreeHouse will gain a stronger foothold in the North American market and enter the specialty tea category with this acquisition. The company's pro forma 2013 sales will be around $2.5 billion, approximately 13% higher than the prior year's sales, while its adjusted EBITDA will be around $350 million. The transaction is expected to have a neutral effect on 2013 earnings for TreeHouse, but looks poised to benefit the company's investors in 2014. The company's per-share earnings are expected to be up by approximately $0.14 to $0.16 in the next year.

TreeHouse previously acquired Cains Foods, a privately held manufacturer of shelf-stable foods. As with the Associated Brands acquisition, this acquisition is also expected to have a neutral effect on the company's 2013 earnings. It is expected to increase earnings by roughly $0.05 per share in 2014.

Due to an improved mix of sales and operating efficiencies, the reported gross margins of TreeHouse in the second quarter of 2013 increased by 0.6% year over year. The company's direct operating income and margins improved in all of its segments. The adjusted EBITDA of the company grew by 8.3% to $0.65 per share. TreeHouse's full-year EPS is projected to be in the range of $3.07 to $3.12, an improvement of 22.5% to 24% over 2012.

TreeHouse has also made some strategic changes. In May 2013, the company made some changes in its senior management. Christopher D. Sliva, its senior vice president and COO of the operating unit Bay Valley Foods, was promoted to executive vice president of the company and president of Bay Valley. Silva had an outstanding career at various consumer packaged goods companies, and has strong experience in managing operations. This change may have a positive impact on the company's financial stability in the long run.

What synergies will peers' acquisitions bring?
Campbell Soup  (NYSE: CPB  )  has acquired Kelsen Group, a producer of baked snacks. Kelsen's products are sold in 85 countries around the world, with sales of $180 million in fiscal year 2012. The sweet biscuit market in China and Hong Kong is growing at a faster pace than the global average. Campbell Soup is well positioned to take advantage of this growth because Kelsen is the market leader in both China and Hong Kong. The acquisition is expected to boost revenues for Campbell, and eventually enhance its profitability.

Campbell Soup's management plans to strengthen the company's core business and expand its operations into higher-growth areas. This plan will help the company expand its international presence and improve its profitability by diversifying its revenue base.

ConAgra Foods  (NYSE: CAG  ) , another player in the market, acquired Ralcorp Holdings at the beginning of the year. ConAgra projects that the acquisition will help drive EPS growth until 2017. However, ConAgra just recently cut the current quarter and full year 2014 EPS estimates. The company now projects full-year EPS in the range of $2.34 to $2.38, down from $2.40 due to weakness in the consumer foods business.

Final takeaway
TreeHouse's improved sales and operating margins have strengthened its financial position, which suggests future profit growth. The company's acquisitions are expected to add further to EPS, which could also lead to higher profitability. Based on these expectations, the stock seems to be a good buy.

Campbell Soup's revenues in the third quarter of fiscal year 2013 have increased by 13%, and its earnings per share increased by 3.5% on a year-over-year basis. The Kelsen acquisition will also significantly increase Campbell Soup's revenues. Campbell Soup's dividend has been constantly increasing; its dividend increased at a CAGR of 5.7% over the last five years. Therefore, the company's future prospects look bright.

ConAgra's strong current position, as well as the EPS growth expectations for ConAgra, suggest handsome future earnings.

The retail space is in the midst of the biggest paradigm shift since mail order took off at the turn of last century. Only those most forward-looking and capable companies will survive, and they'll handsomely reward those investors who understand the landscape. You can read about the 3 Companies Ready to Rule Retail in The Motley Fool's special report. Uncovering these top picks is free today; just click here to read more.

Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly represented ConAgra's projected 2014 EPS. The Fool apologizes for the error.


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