One of the best ways to make money in the stock market is to invest in companies that are in-line with industry trends. As you likely already know, organic and natural food is all the rage. People are more health-conscious than in the past, which has a lot to do with the increased popularity of the Internet and the amount of information that's available to consumers. As more consumers educate themselves on the benefits of a healthy diet (and the risks of an unhealthy diet), they're highly likely to favor organic and natural foods going forward. Hain Celestial (NASDAQ: HAIN) should benefit from this trend, which then has the potential to benefit you as an investor.
In fiscal year 2013, Hain Celestial's net sales jumped 25.9% year over year to $1.73 billion. This was thanks to improved consumption in the United States, expanded distribution, and the acquisition of Ambient Grocery Brands in the United Kingdom. Hain Celestial also introduced more than 300 products worldwide. Looking ahead, Hain Celestial expects fiscal year 2014 net sales to grow 17% and diluted earnings per share to grow at 16%-20%.
Wheeling and dealing
Hain Celestial is well aware of industry trends, and it has made several strategic moves to maximize its potential based on those trends. First, consider the company's recent acquisitions:
- Ambiant Grocery Brands (major food supplier in UK)
- Ella's Kitchen Group (premium organic baby food)
- BluePrint Cleanse (leader in cold-pressure juice category)
- Portfolio of packaged grocery brands from Premier Foods (Hartley's, Sun-Pat, Gale's, Rovertson's, Frank Cooper's)
These acquisitions are sure to drive top-line growth. At the same time, Hain Celestial is divesting underperforming operations in order to maximize its bottom-line potential. For instance, in 2012, it sold its private-label chilled-ready meals business and disposed of its sandwich operations in the United Kingdom.
Based on the information above, it makes sense to see Hain Celestial performing well on both the top and bottom line:
You might have also noticed United Natural Foods' (NASDAQ: UNFI) strong performance on both the top and bottom line. This is yet another example of an organic and natural food company benefiting from industry trends. To further prove this point, United Natural Foods saw its fourth quarter net sales skyrocket 22.2% year over year, and its fourth quarter EPS improve 27.5%, thanks to top-line growth and gross margin improvement. As is often said on Wall Street, the winners keep winning. In other words, expect more of the same. For instance, United Natural Foods expects FY 2014 net sales to increase 11.8%-14%, and EPS to improve 10.1%-14.7%.
Sysco (NYSE: SYY) hasn't been quite as impressive as Hain Celestial and United Natural Foods, but that's to be expected given current industry trends. Despite competitive and macro headwinds, Sysco has still managed to grow its top line, and it's constantly cutting costs to improve the bottom line. Even though Sysco doesn't have as much exposure to the health-conscious consumer, Sysco is capable of adjusting to industry trends to target this high-potential market.
Even if this transition doesn't take place, Sysco rewards its shareholders with a generous 3.50% yield, while maintaining a debt-to-equity ratio of 0.56 -- below the industry average of 0.60. Additionally, Sysco has repurchased its own shares for 21 consecutive years. This keeps outstanding share count low and aids earnings-per-share, which then pleases investors. In the fourth quarter, Sysco's sales increased 5% despite a hesitant consumer, and only 2.1% of this growth could be attributed to acquisitions. Volume growth, including acquisitions, improved 3%.
The bottom line
It would be difficult to go wrong with a long-term investment in any of these companies. If you're looking for top-line growth and high potential, then consider Hain Celestial or United Natural Foods. They're now trading at 22 and 23 times forward earnings, respectively. This makes these companies expensive, but those multiples appear to be justifiable. If you're more risk averse and you want to collect generous and safe dividend payments, consider Sysco.
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