Eating Up Dividends in the Food Industry

Campbell Soup (NYSE: CPB  ) has a very recognizable brand, known mainly for its soup. Shares of the company are essentially flat over the last year compared to an S&P 500 index that's up nearly 20%. The company is undergoing some restructuring and has been active on the merger and acquisition front, which could make it attractive to investors again.

Acquisitions are the first growth opportunity 
Campbell's North American soup and simple meal business is its key revenue driver. But it's turning to acquisitions to help drive future growth. This is a big positive and will hopefully break it away from the declining canned-soup business.

During 2013, it snatched up three companies: Bolthouse Farms, Plum Organics, and the Kelsen Group. Its Plum Organics acquisition gives the company a larger presence in the food market for children. These recently acquired products and its rollout of new products should help create excitement around its brand, with the ultimate goal of attracting new customers to its brand. The company plans to add more than 200 new products to its offering this year.

Restructuring and partnerships are the next growth avenues
It also recently developed two joint ventures in Mexico. These will help boost Campbell's manufacturing and distribution capabilities but also give it an increased presence in international markets. It's also undergoing some supply chain restructuring to help reduce costs. All in all, the restructurings should be long-term positives for Campbell.

And as if its simple meals couldn't get any simpler, Campbell has a deal with Keurig Green Mountain. The deal allows Campbell to develop Fresh-Brewed Soup K-Cup packs. When they come to market later this year, they will be sold with other K-cups versus being sold in the grocery store soup aisle.

How Campbell stacks up
Much of the U.S. foods market is dominated by a couple companies. General Mills (NYSE: GIS  ) and Kraft Foods Group  (NASDAQ: KRFT  ) are the two key operators. Both of these companies have market caps above $30 billion compared to Campbell's $13 billion. But all three offer enticing yields.

General Mills has a dominant position in ready-to-eat breakfast cereals. But it also has a strong position in yogurt and Betty Crocker baking mixes. Its U.S. retail business accounts for more than 60% of sales. It's looking to diffuse some of its key retail brands, such as Cheerios and Haagen-Dazs, into faster growing markets, namely China, Indonesia, and India.

Kraft Foods Group is the North American food and beverage business that was spun off from Kraft Foods. Kraft Foods Group will likely remain focused on the U.S. After all, Mondelez International is the international business of what used to be Kraft Foods.

Campbell recently sold off its European simple meal business -- just another move to get out of the troubled canned soup market. Meanwhile, it's also turning its focus to healthy beverages and fresh foods.

How shares stack up
Campbell trades at a P/E of 17 based on next year's earnings estimates. And its dividend yield is at 2.8%, which is the lowest yield of the three foods stocks listed. General Mills also trades at a P/E of 17, and it offers a 3.1% dividend yield. Kraft Foods offers the highest dividend yield at 3.7% and trades at a 16.5 forward P/E. It's worth noting that Campbell generates a return on equity that's more than 50%, while General Mills is about half that. Kraft also has a return on equity of more than 50%. 

Bottom line
The demand for food is a slow but steady business. And the dividend yields in the foods space are fairly appealing. For investors who are interested in gaining exposure to the food industry, either one of the three stocks above are solid picks. However, Campbell could be one of the most underrated picks. It has been active with acquisitions and it's undergone some restructuring to help drive future earnings. Campbell is definitely worth a closer look.

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