Simply put, food company General Mills (NYSE:GIS) is boring. Not that that's automatically a bad thing, mind you. "Boring" can mean profits and opportunities that are largely ignored by an investing public that would rather buy stocks with names like Cool Research Applications (SYMBOL: CRAP) instead of real businesses. In the case of General Mills, though, I don't see the value as so compelling as to drive a new investment.

For the company's first quarter, sales rose 3% on a 1% increase in volume. U.S. retail sales were up 2% on flat volume, international sales were up 11% on a 7% increase in volume, and sales in the bakeries/food service business were down 1% on a 3% decline in volume.

Profitability was a prettier picture, however. Segment operating profit, which adds the operating profits of the reporting segments together without subtracting corporate expenses, climbed 21%, and overall operating income rose 18% as the operating margin expanded by more than two whole percentage points.

The balance sheet and cash flow statement also looked good. And on a side note, I'd like to laud and applaud management for starting to include a cash flow statement with the earnings release.

Back to our regular programming, the company generated considerably better cash flow in this quarter (positive free cash flow of $93 million versus negative free cash flow last year), although I'd again caution investors not to overstate one quarter's performance. On the balance sheet, debt is mostly stable, and working capital seems to be in good order.

While the company has some definite positives -- good yogurt sales, good snack growth, and pretty good volume growth in Europe -- I'm not entirely sure where to rank it in the hierarchy of big food. The dividend is OK, but Motley Fool Income Investor pick Unilever's (NYSE:UL) is better. Margins are pretty good, but the company doesn't generate as much profitability from its assets as companies like Kellogg (NYSE:K) or Campbell Soup (NYSE:CPB) do. And while the valuation looks pretty attractive on a relative basis, growth expectations are middling vis-à-vis its peers.

When I weigh all that out, I think I still like Kellogg and Unilever better, but General Mills could be a very reasonable third option. Yes, food companies can be a bit dull, they have debt, and they don't grow very fast. But if the economy slows down much and consumer discretionary spending goes into hibernation, they can add a bit of stability to most portfolios. People will always need yogurt and snacks.

For more pre-packaged takes, tear into this Foolishness:

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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).