Investors have good reasons to follow the consumer staples sector right now. Its appeal has been bolstered by spiking demand during the COVID-19 pandemic. Companies that manufacture or sell essential products like tissue paper, diapers, and cleaning supplies are typically resistant to recessions, and thus make an attractive choice during uncertain economic times like these. Most consumer staples giants pay generous dividends, too, which look even better in today's ultra-low interest rate environment.
With those advantages in mind, let's look at a few stocks that cover these bases while still looking like attractive long-term values.
1. General Mills
Sluggish growth kept many investors away from General Mills (NYSE:GIS) in the year or so preceding the pandemic. The cereal and snack food specialist's organic sales were flat in the nine months leading up to the global outbreak, but soaring demand for pantry staples pushed that figure up to 16% by late May.
Sure, that spike will inevitably settle back down as the COVID-19 threat fades and as consumers return to more normal habits of commuting and eating outside of the home. But General Mills had been posting improving profitability even before the pandemic thanks to aggressive cost-cutting and innovation in its core franchises. The company's major push into pet food with the Blue Buffalo brand purchase, meanwhile, is likely to continue supporting growth into 2021 and beyond.
It will be a few quarters before we know whether General Mills has really reached a new level of market share and earnings power once the industry returns to normal. But it was making good strides before the disruption hit, and now there's a solid chance the company can convince many of its newest customers to stay loyal to its food brands in the post-pandemic world.
Wall Street is more interested in its chief rival, Walmart, these days, but Kroger (NYSE:KR) brings its own attractive characteristics to the investing table. The supermarket chain has proven to be a major retailing destination for millions of consumers during the early stages of the pandemic, with Q1 sales gains roughly doubling Walmart's latest performance.
It's not yet clear that Kroger has returned to its prior track record of steady market share gains, but investors can see that all the ingredients are in place for a strong period of growth ahead. These include robust customer traffic volumes, popular store brands like Simple Truth, and an expanding multichannel selling model.
Meanwhile, Kroger stock is valued at a significant discount to peers including Walmart, Target, and Costco. That gap gives investors a solid entry point in one of the industry's biggest retailers.
3. Procter & Gamble
Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG) had been seeing near-record growth before the pandemic hit thanks to years of efforts to prepare the business for its next expansion phase. Those gains hit a new level during COVID-19 shutdowns, which helped push organic sales up 6% to end fiscal 2020.
The selling environment going forward will be filled with potential challenges including recessions, quickly changing consumer demand trends, and spiking competition. But P&G, as the industry leader in operating profit margin, market share, and manufacturing efficiency, is well suited for that situation.
Sure, an investor could purchase rival Kimberly-Clark for a relative discount, while getting a slightly higher dividend yield. But Procter & Gamble demonstrated its ability to dominate the consumer staples niche before the pandemic hit, and since then the case has only gotten stronger for investors to own a piece of this attractive business.