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Source: Tyson

After Tyson Foods (NYSE:TSN) reported earnings that fell shy of analyst estimates on April 5, shares plummeted 10% to close at $38.44. Now, with shares of the foods business trading at a 13% discount compared to their 52-week high of $44.24, should investors consider taking a stake for the long term? Or would it make more sense to invest in Pilgrim's Pride (NASDAQ:PPC) instead?

Tyson beat on the top line but fell short where it really counts!
For the quarter, Tyson reported revenue of $9.03 billion. In addition to beating the $8.84 billion analysts anticipated, the company's sales came in about 8% higher than the $8.38 billion management reported in the year-ago quarter. In its earnings release, the company attributed the rise in sales to an increase in most of its segments, but the largest contributors to rising sales were its beef, pork, and chicken operations.

According to Tyson's press release, its pork operations saw a 13% rise in sales from $1.31 billion to $1.49 billion; its beef operations grew 11% from $3.45 billion to $3.83 billion. Both of these segments benefited from significant price increases. The company's chicken segment fared slightly worse but still did well, growing revenue 4% from $2.73 billion to $2.84 billion as higher sales volume helped the company's top line.

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Source: Tyson

From a revenue perspective, Tyson did pretty well. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the company from a profitability perspective. For the quarter, Tyson reported earnings per share of $0.60. Although this represents a significant gain compared to the $0.36 per share management reported in the year-ago quarter, it fell shy of the $0.63 analysts anticipated. Nevertheless, the improvement came from its cost of goods sold, which fell from 94.4% of sales to 92.8% as margins rose in its chicken and beef segments.

Will Tyson lose its wings, or can the company get back up again?
Over the past five years, Tyson has done reasonably well for itself. Between 2009 and 2013, the company saw its revenue climb 29% from $26.7 billion to $34.4 billion, while its net loss of $547 million turned into a net gain of $778 million.

In recent years, the company's sales jump has stemmed from large price increases offset, in part, by lower product volume. Meanwhile, the rise in the company's profits has been due to a combination of higher revenue, smaller impairment charges, and the company's cost of goods sold falling from 95.5% of sales to 93.1%.

Pilgrim's Pride hasn't been as fortunate. During this same time frame, the company's revenue rose a more modest 19% from $7.1 billion to $8.4 billion, while its net loss of $151.6 million turned into a gain of $549.6 million.

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According to Pilgrim's Pride's most recent annual report, its increase in sales can be chalked up to higher revenue from its fresh chicken category and its Mexico chicken operations. These rose 32% and 77%, respectively, while the company's prepared chicken segment dropped 11%.

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Source: Tyson

Looking at the bottom line, we can see that Pilgrim's Pride benefited from higher sales. Not only that, but it also enjoyed some margin improvements, particularly in its cost of goods sold, which fell from 94.8% of sales to 89.9%, and its selling, general, and administrative expenses, which declined from 4.2% of sales to 2.2%.

Foolish takeaway
Based on the data provided, it shouldn't be much of a surprise that Tyson took a dive. Despite reporting attractive sales growth, the business came up short on earnings in spite of higher margins versus the year-ago quarter. 

However, given the company's decent track record of generating higher sales and higher profits, it might make for an appealing prospect at this point. Foolish investing requires a long term view and a single quarter does not make a company's fate. Pilgrim's Pride might also make for an interesting investment especially in light of the company's high return on equity record. As always Foolish investors should do their own research before making any investment decisions. 

Top dividend stocks for the next decade
Even though Tyson may provide investors with some nice upside in the future, the company does have one downfall: its dividend is pretty small. While this may not mean a lot if management can grow the business rapidly, it does place some extra risk into the equation.

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Daniel Jones has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.