Mark Twain's observation to "buy land -- they're not making any more of it" can also be applied to food companies: Buy their stocks because people will always need to eat.
As we saw during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, people raced to their local supermarkets to clear shelves of food products as they hoarded goods to see how the crisis would pan out. They even flooded online supermarkets, causing e-commerce grocery sales to double at Walmart (WMT 0.96%).
While normalcy has largely returned to the grocery aisle, the two food stocks below look ready for a bull run.
Supermarket chain Albertsons (ACI 0.77%) is the second-largest pure play grocery store behind Kroger (KR 0.31%) with over 2,250 supermarkets in 34 states operating under the banners of Albertsons, Acme, Safeway, Vons, and more.
Like Walmart, it saw digital sales soar during the pandemic, surging 276% in its fiscal first quarter that ended in June. Sales overall rose 21% to $22.8 billion from the year-ago period, and gross profit margins jumped 29.8% from 28% last year. Adjusted profits of $1.6 billion show it has sufficient capacity to keep growing.
Its stock, though, trades at a significant discount. Shares go for just five times trailing earnings and nine times next year's estimates, and it is offered at a tiny fraction of its sales and a negligible amount of the free cash flow it produces.
Some of that discount is because of the large amount of debt it was saddled with by its private equity owners, who also still own 25% of the stock. Yet with new investments in digital initiatives such as its Drive Up & Go curbside pickup program and plans to offer new micro fulfillment centers to bolster its e-commerce sales, Albertsons ought to remain competitive with Walmart, Kroger, and other large grocers.
With its stock down 14% from its $16 IPO price in June, Albertsons looks poised for a bull run higher.
Sysco (SYY -1.74%) is the largest U.S. food distributor with a 16% share of a very fragmented food-service distribution market. Yet it was not able to capitalize on the food fight during the pandemic because three quarters of its revenue comes from distributing goods to establishments that were negatively impacted by the healthcare crisis.
Restaurants, for example, account for 62% of its revenue, and they were only allowed to be open for takeout and delivery; travel and leisure was decimated, and it represented another 7% of revenue; and retail, 5% of Sysco's total revenue, was also largely shut down. With educational and government facilities accounting for another 8% of the total, there was a good chunk of business that just didn't need Sysco's business for a while.
That led the food distributor to seek out other channels, including to supermarkets where it was not represented. That could take some time to develop, as the Walmarts and Krogers already have their favored distributors, but it reported it was able to win over $1 billion in annualized new business during the crisis.
It also means that many of Sysco's smaller rivals might not be able to survive the pandemic, giving it a chance to further consolidate its lead and roll up more of the industry under its umbrella.
Sysco's stock is still down nearly 30% year to date despite having more than doubled from its March lows. It also trades at a fraction of its sales, though the stock is more richly valued than Albertsons on an earnings basis.
Still, analysts forecast Sysco being able to grow its earnings at a compounded 22% annual rate for the next five years, making it both a stock to buy to capture the coming bull run as well as a long-term portfolio holding.