The Top 5 Socially Responsible Consumer Goods Investments for Summer 2014

There are a number of companies in the consumer goods sector that pay attention to corporate social responsibility, or CSR. According to the Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment, socially responsible investing, or SRI, focuses on balancing financial returns with social benefits.

A primer on socially responsible investing
SRI includes issues like corporate governance, consumer protection, and employee treatment as well as broader matters like social justice, environmental stewardship, and human rights. Moreover, SRI also considers shareholder advocacy and community investing. 

The goal of SRI is to invest in companies that treat consumers, shareholders, and employees with respect while also considering environmental sustainability. Investors concerned with ethics try to avoid investments that might cause suffering, damage the planet, mistreat workers and customers, and violate the law. 

In short, investors can maintain their values and make money too. Let's take a look at some companies across the consumer goods sector that have good track records of balancing profits and ethics.

Bravo Brio offers healthier foods for diners
Bravo Brio Restaurant Group
(NASDAQ: BBRG  ) owns and operates a number of casual restaurants that include BRAVO! Cucina Italiana and BRIO Tuscan Grille, or BRIO. Bravo Brio offers light and healthy menu options with fewer calories. In fact, the company believes that its low-calorie fare has been one of its most successful initiatives.

While providing its customers with healthy choices, BRAVO also reported solid fourth-quarter and year-end results earlier this year. The company's management noted that the adjusted results came in at the high end of its guidance. In 2014, BRAVO will be developing six new restaurants while launching a number of healthy dining initiatives that should raise average check and improve margins.

In short, with a current share price hovering at $15.70 and a leaner forward price/earnings ratio of 16.62, the company's earnings and share-price performance should continue to improve. This makes BRAVO worth considering for investors looking for a responsible and healthy alternative in the casual retail restaurant sector.

CVS Caremark is a leader in corporate social responsibility
CVS Caremark (NYSE: CVS  ) recently released its 2013 Corporate Social Responsibility report. A key topic of the CSR report was the company's plan to stop selling tobacco products as it transitions into a broader health care provider.

The pharmacy retailer anticipates the loss of about $2 billion in annual revenue after it kicks the habit. But the company took steps in 2013 to incrementally offset the loss by acquiring Coram Infusion and then broadening its strategic alliance with Cardinal Health. This will shore up CVS' position as a leading provider of affordable generic prescription medicine.

The company's current price to earnings ratio is 19.29, but its forward P/E is 15.05, which means that potential remains for a rise in share price. And these factors make CVS a good choice for socially responsible investors who are looking for earnings growth and share price performance.

General Mills confronts genetically modified food concerns
As has previously been reported, General Mills (NYSE: GIS  ) announced earlier this year that it would eliminate the use of GMOs in the company's original Cheerios.

The decision partially came as a response to pressure from consumers to label products made with GMOs or alternatively to eliminate genetically modified ingredients. For General Mills, this is a good idea and fits in well with the company's history of being ecologically friendly. And eliminating GMOs from its leading brand name cereal is a big first step.

While General Mills' current share price is close to its 52-week high of $55.64, its forward P/E is trending a few points lower. And the company's continued efforts to lead the way toward healthier food production by eliminating and labeling GMO sources make General Mills a worthwhile contender for health-conscious cereal lovers and ethical investors too.

Starbucks' footprint in the global village
Starbucks (NASDAQ: SBUX  ) has a solid reputation for connecting profits to CSR across the globe where the coffee retailer does business in 60 countries. The coffee shop has gained market share by providing quality coffee products while heeding the call of environmental groups to focus on sustainability by buying coffee beans from small farmers.

The company last reported fiscal second-quarter and year-to-date numbers for the period ending on March 30, 2014. The report was highlighted by a 6% increase in global comparable-store sales and a 17% rise in earnings per share to $0.56. In sum, Starbucks has built its business model on growth while focusing on sustainability in the global village.

United Natural Foods is a leader in the natural-food industry
United Natural Foods (NASDAQ: UNFI  ) offers an array of natural and organic food and beverages that range from sports drinks to nuts and has long been focused on the GMO issue.

Moreover, United Natural Foods has had solid earnings-per-share growth over the past two years. In the 2013 fiscal year, its revenue growth surpassed the industry average of 7.2%. In the fourth quarter, its revenue was up by 13.6% compared to the year-ago period.

For the remainder of its fiscal 2014 which ends August 2, 2014, United expects net sales of approximately $6.70 billion-$6.78 billion -- an increase of about 10.5%-11.8% compared to the previous fiscal year. It expects earnings per diluted share to come in at $2.45-$2.51 which is 12.4%-15.1% higher than the result from fiscal 2013.

Final socially responsible thoughts
Ultimately, ethical investing is really a question of values and this is very subjective. That being said, ethical investing and making money are not mutually exclusive and the companies discussed here are tuned into CSR and offer choices that balance values with profits to ethically concerned investors.

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