Dividend stocks are a stabilizing force in most investors' portfolios. The income they provide helps protect returns during market declines. But a less appreciated benefit is that setting dividend payments to automatically reinvest amplifies gains while working against an investor's most dangerous impulse: overactive trading.

With those positive factors in mind, let's look at a few attractive dividend stocks in the stable snack and consumer foods niche. Read on for some good reasons to like PepsiCo (NASDAQ:PEP), McCormick (NYSE:MKC), and General Mills (NYSE:GIS) today.

1. PepsiCo

PepsiCo investors must be happy that the company resisted calls to break itself up in recent years. That diverse portfolio, which pairs a huge beverage business with snack-food sales, made all the difference in 2020.

A young, smiling girl eating cereal at a white kitchen counter.

Image source: Getty Images.

In fact, despite a sharp slump during initial COVID-19 lockdowns, Pepsi is on track to roughly match the banner 2019 growth results it announced back in February. Soaring snack-food sales have totally offset declines in on-the-go drinking, leaving Pepsi in an unusually strong operating position.

It's easily outgrowing rivals like Coca-Cola right now, but investors should be just as pleased with Pepsi's impressive cash flow trends. Operating cash rose to $6.1 billion in the first three quarters of 2020, compared to $5.1 billion a year earlier.

PEP Cash from Operations (TTM) Chart

PEP Cash from Operations (TTM) data by YCharts.

Pepsi plans to return much of that haul to shareholders through stock buybacks, but the outlook is just as strong for increasing dividend payments from here.

2. McCormick

McCormick's dividend boost in late November marked the company's 35th consecutive annual raise. It also pushed the payout to double the quarterly rate that shareholders were getting just seven years ago, in fiscal 2013.

Since then, the spice and flavorings giant has steadily outgrown its industry -- and the pandemic didn't harm that broader success story. Sales rose 9% year over year in the third quarter, thanks in part to the lift from recently purchased brands like French's and Frank's. McCormick made another bold bet along those lines when it acquired the Cholula hot-sauce franchise in late 2020.

Sure, you can find much higher yields than the 1.3% that McCormick paid as of late December. But this Dividend Aristocrat supplements that payout with a long track record of aggressive raises. Look for these hikes to continue well past 2021.

3. General Mills

General Mills wasn't impressing investors before the pandemic hit, but several improvements to the business suggest it has put those struggles behind it. Yes, it achieved faster growth while consumers spent more time eating at home. Sales were up 8% in the six months that ended in late November, with solid gains in both volume and pricing.

General Mills has a good shot at keeping many of these new customers when eating-out trends move back to normal. CEO Jeff Harmening and his team, meanwhile, have been busy cutting costs and bulking up the product portfolio with hit brands like the Blue Buffalo pet-food franchise.

The early days of 2021 might be difficult, as the cereal and snack food giant hits the anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic-related stock-up sales spike from early 2020. But shareholders can ignore that volatility -- and collect an over 3% yield -- while waiting for the business to settle down to a more normal growth cadence.

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.