In this market, it's surprising to see any stock deliver appreciable gains. But what if I told you that baking soda generated a 28% return on investment last year? That's exactly what Church & Dwight (NYSE:CHD), marketer of a wide range of personal care and household consumer products -- including Arm & Hammer baking soda, Oxi Clean laundry detergent, and Close Up and Aim toothpastes -- delivered to investors over the last year.

All of the big consumer products companies have reported their quarterly earnings within the past week or two, and as you can imagine, this sector's earnings have been better than most. As far as I'm concerned, though, Church & Dwight will have to aim a little higher, since its third-quarter earnings were spotty at best.

I understand that Church & Dwight is going through a transitional time within the organization. The company is finishing up its acquisition of Orajel producer Del Pharmaceuticals, and is working on a $170 million integrated manufacturing plant and distribution center while closing another plant and divesting a Spanish subsidiary. Through all of this, net sales jumped by 8.7%, and organic net sales increased by 4%.

Church & Dwight did a great job of controlling cost of goods sold, even with commodity price increases. The company reported an 8.1% increase, in line with revenue growth. Marketing expenses jumped by 14.4% as the company stepped up advertising while selling, general and administrative costs (SG&A) skyrocketed to 20.7%, primarily driven by merger and acquisition activities. While more than 50% of the company's product portfolio will have experienced price increases by the conclusion of 2008, the above-mentioned expenses led to a 5.3% decrease in net income and a 110-basis point drop in net profit margin.

What especially caught my eye was the meager consumer global sales growth; international sales increased by only 4.3%, versus a 9.6% global sales increase over the last nine months. If foreign exchange is excluded, global sales were down for the quarter. Management blamed price increases, which also caused Kimberly-Clark (NYSE:KMB) to blow its third-quarter volume growth.

Slowing international growth has been one of the lowlights for some consumer products companies this quarter. Unilever (NYSE:UL) reported sales volume decreases in Europe, but growth everywhere else. Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG) is forecasting some slowing in international numbers because of unfavorable moves in the foreign currency exchange, and the international growth Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE:CL) reported last week was tempered by exchange rates.

I get that Church & Dwight has growth potential with its recent M&A opportunities, but I don't think that it's worth a trailing-12-month P/E of 22.2. The company did increase its dividend, but it still lags the industry average by 120 basis points. Despite their relative stability, even in rough times, consumer-products stocks have taken a hit. There are better bargains out there right now.

Related Foolishness:

Kimberly-Clark and Unilever are Motley Fool Income Investor selections. Looking for more advice in an all-consuming market? Give The Motley Fool's newsletters a try with free 30-day trials.

Fool contributor Colleen Paulson owns shares of Procter & Gamble, but does not hold positions in any other companies mentioned above. The Fool's disclosure policy always aims for top results.