They're anything but sexy stocks. But what food companies may lack in pizzazz they make up for with perpetual marketability -- everyone's got to eat. For investors, the trick is just finding the names best positioned to put their products on consumers' plates.

To that end, Mondelez International (NASDAQ:MDLZ), Tyson Foods (NYSE:TSN), and The Kroger Co. (NYSE:KR) are the food industry's top three names investors should bite into. Here's why.

Shopping cart in a grocery store aisle.

Image source: Getty Images.

Mondelez International

You know the company with the funny name better than you might realize. Mondelez is the owner of Philadelphia cream cheese, Ritz crackers, and Oreo cookies just to name a few. These are goods people typically buy over and over, regardless of the economic backdrop.

And they've done just that. Revenue through the first three quarters of fiscal 2020 is up 1.7%, with the company pushing through the logistics challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. It's accelerating growth, too, now that it's had a chance to adapt. Sales for the quarter ending in September were up 4.9%, driving operating income growth.

Mondelez isn't offering guidance for the coming year, knowing the pandemic's future impact (or lack thereof) is uncertain. It's estimating revenue growth of 3.5% for all of the current fiscal year, though, and in the meantime, analysts are calling for top-line growth of 3.7% in 2021. Both outlooks underscore how unfazed the company's slow but steady growth trajectory is by outside forces.

Tyson Foods

Whether you're a fan of chicken, beef, or pork, Tyson Foods has something for your grocer's, or at a restaurant. This company supplies both kinds of businesses. But you're a vegan? No problem. Tyson's in the "meatless" meat business, too.

Investors who keep close tabs on the company will know Tyson hasn't exactly had an easy time with the coronavirus. The meat-packing industry proved particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 infections, and this name was no exception. Some of its facilities were even forced to shut down due to uncontrolled outbreaks, and at least one wrongful death lawsuit was filed against the company in May. Tyson Foods didn't help its cause in the meantime. Managers at one of its plants were alleged to have made bets as to how many employees would be infected with COVID-19. (Those managers are suspending until an internal investigation is completed.) Given this backdrop, it's no surprise shares are still down 25% from their January high despite the rally that's taken shape over the course of the past month.

Yet the market may be punishing this company far too much. Priced at only 11.4 times its trailing 12-month earnings and 11.2 times next year's expected per-share profits, Tyson Foods is too much of a bargain to pass up. This year's setbacks and missteps will be in the rear-view mirror soon enough.


It's not the country's biggest grocer; that honor technically belongs to Walmart. Kroger is the biggest food-focused grocery store chain, though, with more than 2,800 stores in 35 states driving annual revenue of more than $120 billion. That scale translates into leverage and efficiency other grocers struggle to match.

Yes, the company just fell short of third-quarter sales estimates, reporting a top line of $29.7 billion versus analysts' collective estimate of $29.9 billion. Online sales growth also slowed from the previous quarter's pace. Keep things in perspective, however: Excluding gasoline sales, revenue was still up nearly 11% year over year. Per-share earnings were still up 51%. Online sales still grew by 108% compared to the third quarter of 2019. Given how consumers have adjusted to living with the pandemic -- and found more cost-effective approaches to buy food -- that's still a pretty impressive result.

Kroger thinks it's going to be able to capitalize on the coronavirus contagion for at least a little while longer. The company clarified its previous guidance for 2020 sales growth with a slight increase in the previous outlook, now calling for a 14% top-line improvement. Earnings should come in somewhere between $3.30 and $3.35 per share, up from prior guidance of $3.20 to $3.30.

The market simply had unfairly high expectations of Kroger headed into its third-quarter report. Once the disappointment wears off, investors should see what a powerhouse this grocer still is.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.