A cartoon corncob shall lead the way
What can you learn from an animated ear of corn voiced by Fabio?

How to make a fortune, perhaps. No, I'm not recommending you lengthen your locks, pump those biceps, and start down the romance-novel-cover-to-margarine-spokesmodel road, although I hear the pay is decent. I do suggest you take a look at the goofy online soap opera starring Fabio as a corncob laywer. It's called "Sprays of Our Lives."

Enjoy the backstabbing stick of butter, the amorous broccoli doctor, the naughty dialogue, and the semi-wooden delivery from "Cobbio." But then, ponder the product, just for a second: Unilever's (NYSE:UL) I Can't Believe It's Not Butter in a pump spray bottle.

Spray-on margarine? Revolutionary? No. We've been greasing pans with sprays for years. This is a twist, getting us a little butter flavor right where we want it, but it's nothing unprecedented. Chefs have been spraying olive oil for a while, and I can get balsamic vineagar in a spray bottle, too.

But there's often gold in these simple ideas.

Boring products, big returns?
Spray-on margarine may seem to be about the most boring business imaginable, but oddly enough, the companies doing this kind of boring biz offer some of the best returns the stock market has to offer.

Jeremy Siegel's work with the original S&P 500 highlighted market-beating returns from companies completely uninvolved with the sort of micro-nano-laser business we usually associate with stocks that could make us rich. (I've previously discussed why in The 10 Best Stocks You Might Actually Buy.)

Here's just a snippet of data from Siegel. The following table shows the annual returns for five of the top 10 companies from the original S&P 500, returns that compounded for half a century. The final column gives you an idea of the wealth-building potential of these kinds of companies, if you compounded a $5,000 investment at the annual return rate shown.


Annual Return

Average P/E

After 50 years, $5,000 could become

Altria (NYSE:MO)




Tootsie Roll Industries (NYSE:TR)




Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO)




PepsiCo (NYSE:PEP)




Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE:CL)




Source (first three columns): Jeremy Siegel, TheFuture for Investors.

The secret sauce
There are many reasons these companies went on to create so much wealth for shareholders, but one of the keys is consistent growth. Companies that make and sell products consumers use every day have a very good baseline, or backstop, for revenues. Someone might come along and design a better cell phone any old day -- which is why Motorola and Nokia occasionally get so cheap, often at the other's expense.

But when times are tough, people keep smoking their Marlboros. They keep drinking their favorite soda. They want their chips and Tootsie Rolls, and after all that, they sure need to brush their teeth at the end of the day.

But that's not the end of the story. Even the sleepiest product can use a makeover from time to time. Spray-on margarine. How about PepsiCo's Gatorade? Been around for decades and now they're hawking one with extra salt. And Gatorade was given as one of the reasons for PepsiCo's recent earnings surprise.

Bleach pens, disposable toilet brushes, better antiperspirant push-ups, razors with yet another blade. You may laugh, but these are precisely the ways that "boring" consumer product companies can keep the growth coming.

Double secret sauce
Of course, the final secret for investors to keep in mind isn't really much of a secret. The key to those huge returns is as simple as consistent, reinvested dividends. In fact, going back to Siegel's research, he shows that, from 1871 to 2003, more than 95% of the after-inflation returns from stocks comes from dividends.

And even a small difference in dividend power can make a huge difference. Take a look at the returns Siegel computed for groups of the highest dividend payers from the original S&P 500, compared with the index average, and the lowest yielders. Then look at what a spread that could create after 50 years.

Yield Range

Annual Return

Average P/E

After 50 years, $5,000 could become













Foolish bottom line
Not only do dividend stocks beat the market for the long term, the ability to continue paying a robust dividend is often a prime indication that a company is healthy. That's why my colleague Mathew Emmert scours the market every month for the strongest dividend payers he can find for Motley Fool Income Investor. In fact, "Spraychel's" creator, Unilever, is among Mathew's current picks. If you'd like to see why, or just learn more about the strategy that builds wealth the old-fashioned way -- by paying you cash in the meantime -- a free trial is just a click away.

Seth Jayson finds his portfolio filled with more and more dividend payers, and that's fine with him. At the time of publication, he had no positions in any company mentioned here. View his stock holdings and Fool profile here. Colgate-Palmolive and Coca-Cola are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. Fool rules are here.