Stocks can be unpredictable, so it's nice when an investment in your portfolio generates a cash payout every quarter and helps satisfy the need for some consistent income. That's part of what makes dividend stocks a great way for long-term investors to get reliable returns, even in uncertain times.

And what better way to get a consistent payout than investing in a stock which has been labeled a Dividend King? Dividend Kings are a very select group of 27 S&P 500 companies that have increased their yearly dividend payout for at least 50 straight years. That consistency in rewarding shareholders suggests these companies have a business model that holds up well in the good times as well as the bad.

Let's take a closer look at three of these Dividend Kings and learn a bit more about how they earned this distinction. The first pick, Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ), is a recession-resistant investment in the global healthcare sector. The other two, Hormel Foods (NYSE:HRL) and Target (NYSE:TGT), are defensive consumer goods companies that can thrive in any economic environment. All three are Dividend Kings worth buying and holding forever.

Cash stuffed inside a glass jar

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1. Johnson & Johnson: 57 years of increasing dividends

Johnson & Johnson is a diversified manufacturer of healthcare products. It operates in both the biotech and consumer sides of the industry where it develops everything from new pharmaceutical drugs to over-the-counter skin, health, and hair care products. The global healthcare market has grown at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.3% since 2014. It is expected to grow at an 8.9% CAGR until 2022 even when factoring in the potential negative effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Healthcare is considered a defensive sector because consumers are still likely to spend money on it even during difficult economic times. That's part of the reason why Johnson & Johnson holds up well in recessions and has managed to grow its dividend for 57 years running.

Johnson & Johnson offers a 2.61% dividend yield with a 52.29% payout ratio, meaning it has plenty of free cash flow to maintain its dividend payouts. The company also has a robust stock buyback program that saw management repurchase $5 billion worth of common stock in 2019. While controversial, buybacks help mature companies like Johnson & Johnson grow earnings per share, keep their payout ratios low, and their stock prices stable. The stock has grown 2.12% year to date compared to a 10.23% decline in the S&P 500.

2. Target: 52 years of increasing dividends 

Target operates retail stores and supermarkets in the U.S. along with a small, rapidly growing e-commerce platform. The U.S grocery sector is a mature, but reliable, source of revenue that has enabled Target to steadily maintain its dividend every year since 1967. The company's rapidly growing e-commerce platform looks set to power the next half-century of dividend growth.

Target is a cash cow generating $77.1 billion in revenue in 2019. But while the company's top line is relatively slow-growing, it's e-commerce platform is accelerating. Digital sales grew 29% in 2019. And the coronavirus pandemic boosted digital sales by 275% in early April.

Target sports a 2.36% dividend yield with a payout ratio of 40%. Like other names on this list, management helps ensure dividend sustainability through a massive share repurchase program. The buyback has $5 billion worth of shares eligible for repurchase this year. And it should help boost Target's EPS and keep the company's dividend costs in check until its e-commerce revenue trickles down to the bottom line.

3. Hormel Foods: 54 years of increasing dividends

Nothing screams "hold me forever" quite like Hormel Foods. Founded in 1928, this dividend king makes its money manufacturing and marketing meat products around the world. Americans love meat. And with millions of people entering the global middle class every year, global protein consumption is set to surge for the foreseeable future.

Hormel is a defensive stock because people have to eat, even in bad economic times. The company generated 52% of its 2019 sales from U.S retail and 31% from food service. The remaining 17% comes from U.S. deli meat and international operations.

Hormel's foodservice business may face challenges from the coronavirus pandemic which has shut down the U.S restaurant industry. But the company reaffirmed 2020 guidance as recently as February 2020.

Hormel offers a dividend yield of 1.95% which looks low compared to other names on this list (but is about average when it comes to dividend-yielding stocks). The company offers an unparalleled total return. Hormel's stock has soared 463.3% over the last decade compared to 153.5% for Target and 209.8% for Johnson & Johnson. For comparison, the S&P 500's return over the same period was 144.4%.

These are dividend kings to buy and hold forever.