Should Investors Scramble Over to Cal-Maine Foods?

It's often been said that no matter how bad the economy gets, people still gotta eat. Cal-Maine Foods (NASDAQ: CALM  ) describes itself as the largest producer and distributor of fresh-shell eggs. No matter how bad times are, most everybody has a few pennies for some good old-fashioned eggs. While General Mills (NYSE: GIS  ) provides evidence that other breakfast items such as cereal also see sustainable demand every quarter, Campbell Soup  (NYSE: CPB  )  serves as a warning that all things food don't automatically sell.

You may be asking yourself how Cal-Maine Foods ties into General Mills and Campbell Soup.  The main thing all of these have in common is reliance on brand name for their success in selling foods.  While you are most likely more than familiar with the various products under General Mills and Campbell Soup already, Cal-Maine Foods also relies on its various brands.  Cal-Maine Foods website states: 

We market our specialty shell eggs under the following brands: Egg-Land's Best(TM), Farmhouse(TM), and 4-Grain(TM). We are a member of the Egg-Land's Best, cooperative, which markets the leading brand in the specialty shell egg segment. We have exclusive license agreements to market and distribute Egg-Land's Best(TM) specialty shell eggs in major metropolitan areas, including New York City, and a number of states in the southeast and southwest. 

Cal-Maine Foods' results
On Dec. 30, Cal-Maine Foods reported fiscal second-quarter results. Net sales jumped 8% to $354.3 million. Net income leaped 83% to $26.1 million or $1.08 per diluted share. Part of the reason for the increase was an acquisition that Cal-Maine foods made in November 2012 that contributed 6.2% to the volume of eggs sold, but the main reason net income leaped was that average selling prices went up 1%. This might not sound like much, but Cal-Maine Foods only saw a 4% profit margin in the year-ago period, so a 1% increase in prices meant a huge percentage change in the bottom line.

CEO Dolph Baker also pointed out that specialty egg sales rose to 16.4% of volume and 23.7% of revenue during the quarter. Specialty eggs tend to bring higher prices and higher profits than regular eggs, with prices rising by 4.1% this quarter alone. This niche is a particular area of further profitable growth opportunity for Cal-Maine Foods.

On the cost side, Baker mentioned that feed costs were 15% lower than they were last year. Lower input costs and higher sale prices are of course the perfect recipe for shareholder value. Cal-Maine Foods believes feed costs will stay at their current reduced levels. However, the company did warn that its principal feed ingredients of corn and soybean meal will remain volatile throughout the fiscal year.

Dividends instead of egg shells
Cal-Maine Foods is committed to paying a dividend equal to one-third of its net income. This means reliable and measurable consistent dividends for shareholders that automatically increase in direct and immediate correlation to the company's growth. In keeping with this policy, Cal-Maine Foods declared a cash dividend of $0.361 per share on Jan. 7.

General Mills at ease
Cal-Maine Foods isn't the only one doing well and providing shareholders with reliable earnings and growth when it comes to breakfast foods. Last quarter, General Mills reported sales of $4.88 billion. Although this was flat compared to last year, the quarter last year included the Thanksgiving holiday, while this quarter did not, so it was considered a great quarter. Adjusted earnings per share were down a bit, at $0.83 from $0.86 last year. General Mills expects to see acceleration in earnings growth over the next six months. Just as with the eggs business, General Mills sees solid performance.

Campbell Soup
Meanwhile, this is not to say that anything in any food category will succeed no matter what. Last quarter, Campbell Soup reported sales down 2% and organic sales down 4%, and earnings got clipped by 20%. Campbell Soup blamed in part the "weak consumer environment," which suggests that people will cut back on their favorite soups during tough times but they won't necessarily cut back on eggs and cereal.

Foolish final thoughts
For Cal-Maine Foods, it seems like the sunny side is up all the time. While there are all sorts of areas where customers can cut back when times are tough, including soup from the can, consumption of eggs does not seem to be part of the cutback equation. Fools looking for a stable, consistent-growing moneymaker with limited fundamental downside due to the economy should take a peek at Cal-Maine Foods.

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