While we are still in the thick of the fight against the coronavirus contagion, everyone is working toward an eventual victory. Exactly when the disease will be licked remains in question, and what sort of shape the global economy will be in once that happens is unclear. But we'll get through it. Capitalism will survive.
It's this combination of economic uncertainty and the never-ending interest in building wealth that's set the stage particularly well for some slivers of the market. Namely, consumer staples companies offer investors a nice blend of safety and growth potential right now. Consumers may cut back on eating out at restaurants until the economy is on a firmer footing, but they're not going to stop eating altogether.
To that end, here's a rundown of three of the best consumer staples stocks to consider investing in sooner rather than later.
1. Dollar General sidesteps Walmart
When investors panicked in early March, Dollar General (NYSE:DG) shares, like most other companies, took some lumps. But it didn't take long for investors to figure out this value-oriented retailer had more to gain than lose from the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only was it one of the essential retailers allowed to remain open when other storefronts were forced to close, its well-oiled supply chain proved it can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with names like Walmart (NYSE:WMT) when it comes to getting much-needed goods into consumers' hands. Shares have since rallied well past their February high, suggesting investors are looking for impressive results when it posts quarterly results in June.
The overarching reason to own Dollar General now, however, is the same reason to own it before the coronavirus outbreak took hold. That is, this is a company that's gotten very good at avoiding competing head-to-head with Walmart by setting up stores closer to where consumers live. During the most recent earnings call, CEO Todd Vasos compared the company's network of 15,000-plus stores to Walmart's 4,756 U.S. stores:
[W]e're within five to seven miles of the majority of the United States -- over 75%, if you will. We are in all these rural communities. But I think the most important thing here is that we're a small box shop close to your home.
That accessibility hasn't changed in the meantime, but accessibility may have become even more important to consumers than it was just a few weeks ago.
2. Hormel Foods makes cooking at home easy
It's admittedly cliche to make a point of investing in a food company when most restaurants are closed to sit-down customers, and more people are cooking at home. Still, the opportunity is clear, and if the economy does run into a persistent headwind, at-home cooking will continue to grow.
Hormel Foods (NYSE:HRL) is well-positioned to capitalize on the shift, even more than it already has. Sure, the food company bumped into headwinds of its own as the COVID-19 outbreak played out. Last month, one of its facilities in Illinois was temporarily shut down, as was a production plant in Kansas. In late April, two of its Jennie-O Turkey stores in Minnesota were closed in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
As the world moves toward the reopening of retailers and production facilities while continuing to work toward the COVID pandemic's containment, this food name's recognizable brands are apt to resonate with the newly gelled cook-at-home crowd. Aside from Jennie-O, Hormel is also the parent to brands like Spam, Dinty Moore, Skippy, and Valley Fresh, just to name a few.
The company also made a point of keeping its name in front of consumers effectively trapped at home. For instance, it created The Pantry Project specifically in response to the coronavirus outbreak. The online video series is hosted by professional chefs, who are teaching consumers how to best utilize the foods that have quietly been stored in their pantry.
3. Church & Dwight has a solid supply chain
Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG) is still the proverbial 800-pound gorilla in consumables space and has done well in the wake of COVID-19. Not only are people "stocking up" on goods like its Pampers diapers, Charmin toilet tissue, Gillette razors, and other items they're not convinced they'll be able to buy in the foreseeable future, they're also buying all sorts of cleaning supplies that might help prevent the spread of the dreaded disease. P&G reported a 6% increase in sales for its quarter ending in March. Revenue might have grown even more too, were it not for lockdown-related impediments.
It's the much smaller consumer staples name Church & Dwight, however, that makes for a far more compelling prospect right now. Its top line improved more than 11% during its quarter ending in March, suggesting it had less trouble getting its hands-on product supplies it needed and little trouble getting them into consumers' hands. CEO Matthew Farrell even said as much. As part of the company's statement about first-quarter earnings, Farrell explained:
We have expanded our short-term manufacturing capacity for our cleaning products (including laundry detergent, baking soda, and cleaners) and healthcare products (including vitamins and nasal hygiene) and are working closely with our suppliers and retail partners to ensure sustained supply to keep pace with increased demand.
It's not clear how long it will take for production facilities and suppliers to the staples industry to fully rekindle their pre-COVID production. It is clear, however, that Church & Dwight's supply and distribution channels are operating well and can be scaled up quickly.