Looking for a consistent outperformer? Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE: CL) offers the ability to outperform peers such as Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG) and Clorox (NYSE: CLX) because of one special quirk of consumers, which I'll reveal in a minute.

First, look at a breakdown of Colgate's numbers over the past full fiscal year. The company relies heavily on its oral, personal, and home-care segment to drive sales and operating profit. In fact, in 2009 some 86% of revenue came from this segment, with the remainder derived from its pet nutrition division.

Editorial

Colgate derives similar percentages of its operating profit from each division, with not quite 87% coming from the oral, personal, and home-care segment.

Operatingprofit

Why is Colgate's heavy reliance on this sector good news for investors?

The secret is that consumers are much more willing to stick with brands that they use for maintaining hygiene and personal health. When it concerns their health, consumers are not as willing to trade down to a less trusted brand, than they are to trade down to a cheaper laundry detergent or trash bag, for example. That puts Colgate's oral and personal-care products in prime positions. (Admittedly, Colgate's largest division also comprises the less resilient category of home care, too.)

But look how the company compared to a few peers in 2009:

Company

% of Total Sales for Personal Health and Care

Segment(s) Operating Margin

Overall Operating Margins

Colgate

86.1%*

27.1%

27%

Procter & Gamble

41.1%**

22.4%

23.1%

Clorox

N/M***

N/M

21.3%

Prestige Brands (NYSE: PBH)

64.2%

48.7%

42.1%

Source: Capital IQ.
* Includes full segment; Unable to break out specifically personal health and care.
**Includes the beauty and health care segments.
*** Clorox does not break out its Burt's Bees business.

Clorox has a strong portfolio of cleaning brands, but consumers are willing to trade down from this segment -- notice the company's lower margins.

In its larger health-related division segment, Colgate manages to eke out 27% margins, better than all in this table but Prestige, which is also dependent on health and personal-care brands.

Colgate's focus on this resilient segment means that it can continue to outperform larger competitors such as P&G.

Jim Royal, Ph.D., owns shares in Procter & Gamble. Clorox and Procter & Gamble are Motley Fool Income Investor picks. The Fool owns shares of Prestige Brands and Procter & Gamble. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Fool has a disclosure policy.