Shareholders don't just own stocks. We invest in businesses. Every share we buy purchases a stake in a company -- a sliver of a living, breathing enterprise run by a management team that ultimately determines the fate of the money we invest.

That's why The Motley Fool regularly contacts public companies and executives on our community's behalf, asking them the questions shareholders would find relevant. While quantitative measures are important, it's also crucial for investors to assess the less tangible aspects of the businesses they own (or are thinking of owning).

We recently surveyed select companies to gain insights into their business. Today, we highlight H.J. Heinz (NYSE:HNZ):

Headquarters

Pittsburgh, Pa.

Market Cap

$13.7 billion

Industry

Foods/Consumer Goods

Competitors

Campbell Soup (NYSE:CPB), ConAgra (NYSE:CAG), Kraft (NYSE:KFT), Archer Daniels Midland (NYSE:ADM), among others

Here are H.J. Heinz's (unedited) answers to our email query about its business:

What steps have you taken to navigate your business through the economic turmoil of the past 12 months?
Heinz focused strategically on profit and operating free cash flow to protect the company from the credit crisis and strains in the economy. We also increased marketing investments to support our leading brands and sustain organic growth across our global portfolio as the recession impacted consumer confidence and spending. Now that the consumer environment appears to be stabilizing, we are making additional investment increases in marketing, brand support, and new product innovation in the second half of our current fiscal year. For the full year, we anticipate an increase of at least 15% in marketing investments, which underscores our commitment to driving profitable growth and sustainable volume.

What are the top two or three metrics to which your business pays the closest attention?
Heinz pays close attention to the financial metrics of net sales, operating profit, earnings per share, operating free cash flow, and return on invested capital. These are embedded in executive compensation at Heinz, which is based on performance and the company’s success in delivering its targets and therefore closely aligned with shareholder value.

Now that the first decade of the new century is drawing to a close, we'd like to take a moment to reflect on what lies ahead. What excites you most about your business?
We are optimistic about the future of Heinz because we have a highly focused global portfolio of great brands and a strategy that has driven growth and performance over the last 3.5 years. We are particularly excited about our dynamic growth in emerging markets, which are well on track to generate approximately 20% of the company’s annual sales by 2013, more than double their contribution of five years ago.

H.J. Heinz is rated five stars (out of a possible five) by our Motley Fool CAPS community. Do you agree with our community's bullish assessment? Rate the stock and share your opinion.

H.J. Heinz is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. Campbell Soup is an Inside Value pick. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.