If Kellogg (NYSE:K) had cereal appeal the last time we checked in with the maker of Pop-Tarts, Special K, and Kashi brand products, then its third-quarter results outright demand investor attention.

Sequentially, total company volume moved upward from a 0.5% year-over-year decline to a 0.7% gain. Europe in particular made a dramatic comeback following the resolution of early 2009 negotiations with the region's retailers. Furthermore, the world's largest cereal maker boosted global cereal volume, gained more than a percentage point's worth of market share, and outpaced category sales growth. Apparently, scrappy store brands ain't got nothin' on Tony the Tiger.

Flipping the menu to the financials, net sales of $3.3 billion represent a slight decrease from the year-ago period, but do show quarter-to-quarter growth. And excluding foreign currency effects and acquisitions, sales rose 3%. Earnings per share, meanwhile, notched a 6% gain to register $0.94. In currency-neutral terms, growth was double that figure, at 12%.

Kellogg's earnings performance, though solid, did fall short of key competitor General Mills' (NYSE:GIS), which recently reported adjusted EPS growth of 33%. We can probably attribute some of that gap to differences in product categories: Beyond the overlap in cereal, Kellogg is highly exposed to snacks, while General Mills does a brisk business in soup and yogurt.

In addition, General Mills seems to be much further along in its productivity initiatives, whereas Kellogg is still absorbing up-front costs related to its ongoing K-Lean efficiency plan. In the third quarter, those productivity-related costs amounted to $0.06 per share. Kellogg expects to fully realize planned efficiencies by 2011, but until then, the General might offer investors better bottom-line growth.

That's not to say that Kellogg didn’t post some impressive operating performance. Management expanded gross margin by 1.2% despite annual cost inflation. And year-to-date free cash flow hit $978 million, topping last year's results.

Moreover, growing margins and volume is more than global consumer-goods giant Unilever (NYSE:UL) was able to accomplish in its most recent quarter. Also, Kellogg's strong cereal sales were particularly impressive, given that PepsiCo's (NYSE:PEP) Quaker brand was back in action following a plant shutdown in the 2008 third quarter.

Finally, management raised full-year currency-neutral EPS guidance from a range of 8%-10% growth to 10%-12%. And shareholders can expect the same in 2010.

Of course, investment money that goes into Kellogg and its 3% yield doesn't go toward the greater dividends offered by packaged-foods companies Kraft (NYSE:KFT), H.J. Heinz (NYSE:HNZ), and Sara Lee (NYSE:SLE). Yet the benefit of sticking with a company whose products seem to be winning the loyalty of cash-strapped consumers could be well worth the sacrifice.

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H.J. Heinz, PepsiCo, and Unilever are Motley Fool Income Investor recommendations. Unilever is also a Global Gains pick. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Mike Pienciak doesn't own shares of any company mentioned in this article. The Fool has a disclosure policy.