If you're a student of business history, it might interest you to know that it used to be a hanging offense to steal peppercorns or allspice berries, and countries routinely went to war over malarial splotches of ground whose only redeeming value at the time was the clove trees growing there.

Ahh, the good ol' days ...

While European potentates may have sent men off to die to gain preeminence in spices, McCormick (NYSE:MKC) has achieved much the same result with a lot less bloodshed. Sure, companies like International Flavors & Fragrances (NYSE:IFF), Associated British Foods, Kerry Group, and Unilever (NYSE:UN) compete in the space as well, but McCormick is at the top of the dog pile.

The peculiar thing here, though, is that this would be a great business to own lock, stock, and barrel, but I'm not so sure about the stock right now. The company is still in the midst of some self-improvement efforts, and the top-line growth figure of 1% isn't exactly spicy. By the same token, if you're willing to back out various special charges and the impact of stock compensation expense, you will find double-digit growth at the operating income level.

It's also worth noting that in a time when it isn't performing at its full potential, McCormick is still producing pretty decent returns on equity. So if efforts like manufacturing consolidation, eliminating smaller (and less profitable) customers, and repositioning its in-store merchandising take off, there could be some very solid operating leverage to be had.

So what's my beef with the stock? Well, it seems like investors are already more or less banking on these improvements to take hold. With that in mind, then, Fools might find food companies like Unilever or Kellogg (NYSE:K) to be a bit more to their value tastes.

For more Foolish food for thought:

Unilever is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. Join Mathew Emmert as he uncovers top dividend-paying stocks.

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