For most investors, maintaining a diversified portfolio is a good way to help minimize risk and sleep better at night while also making sure that they don't miss out on winning sectors.

Diversification can mean many things -- small versus large stocks, dividends versus growth stocks, and so on -- but most often it's taken to mean spreading your bets among a variety of industries. Of course, just because you want to have some exposure to a variety of industries doesn't mean that you want to have the same amount of exposure to all industries.

So what of the consumer staples sector? Should we be digging in or pulling back right now? Let's take a look.

Performance
Here's a look at how performance has broken down among the S&P 500 industries:

Sector

Month-to-Date
Performance

Quarter-to-Date
Performance

Year-to-Date
Performance

Consumer Discretionary

(4.5%)

(5.9%)

3.5%

Industrials

(6.2%)

(12%)

(1%)

Consumer Staples

(1.7%)

(7.8%)

(3.2%)

Financials

(5.6%)

(13.2%)

(3.8%)

S&P 500 Overall

(3.6%)

(10.2%)

(5.8%)

Information Technology

(2.7%)

(9.2%)

(7.7%)

Health Care

(1.3%)

(11.8%)

(9.3%)

Utilities

(1.7%)

(5.5%)

(9.8%)

Energy

(3.3%)

(11%)

(10.9%)

Telecom Services

(1%)

(6.2%)

(11.5%)

Materials

(6.8%)

(15.4%)

(13.4%)

Source: Standard & Poor's as of June 7.

Consumer staple stocks are some of the true workhorses of the stock market. They don't tend to be particularly exciting, but for the most part they're very stable and dependable. For that reason, it shouldn't be all that surprising that the sector has performed better than the market average during the recent sell-off.

But should you be a buyer?
With a weighting of roughly 12%, the consumer staples sector is the third largest S&P sector after financials and information technology. That shouldn't be all that surprising considering the sector contains giants like Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT) and Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO).

Whether your portfolio should be above or below that 12%, though, is largely a question of your investment goals. Investors who like taking big swings at fast-growing stocks may have a tougher time tracking down opportunities in this normally slow-moving sector. On the other hand, investors who enjoy steady growth, dividends, and lower volatility may be well served by loading up their shopping cart in this aisle.

On the basis of forward price-to-earnings ratios, the consumer staples sector is currently the second cheapest sector in the S&P 500, behind only utilities. While we should probably expect lower valuations given the slower growth of the sector, as I look over the individual stocks it does appear that there are a lot of high-quality names available at very reasonable prices.

Digging in
Lately, I, along with some of my fellow Fools, have been hot on large, blue chip names in the U.S. market. For that reason, it shouldn't be that surprising that some of the best opportunities I see in consumer staples fall into that category.

Company

Market Cap

Subsector

Forward P/E

Return on Equity

Dividend Yield

Wal-Mart

$188 billion

Food and Staples Retailing

12.6

22.9%

2.4%

Coca-Cola

$117 billion

Beverages

14.8

31.1%

3.4%

Philip Morris International (NYSE: PM)

$80 billion

Tobacco

11.4

121.9%

5.3%

CVS Caremark (NYSE: CVS)

$42 billion

Food and Staples Retailing

11.3

10.5%

1%

Kimberly Clark (NYSE: KMB)

$25 billion

Household Products

12.7

41.5%

4.4%

Source: Capital IQ, a Standard & Poor's company.

These are by no means the only opportunities out there in the consumer staples sector right now, but I think there's a lot to like about these companies in particular.

I see Wal-Mart as a great way to play a non-committal attitude toward the economic recovery. Should tough times continue, we'll likely see more customers trading down to Wal-Mart to take advantage of low prices, while a more robust recovery will drive more overall shopping. Meanwhile, more customers are being drawn to Wal-Mart's stores -- both the supercenters and Sam's Club warehouses -- for their grocery needs.

Cola may not exactly be a growth market, but that doesn't mean that Motley Fool Inside Value favorite Coca-Cola isn't a good pick. The Coke brand was ranked number one in the world by Interbrand in 2009, which makes sense considering its leadership position in sparkling beverages, juices, and ready-to-drink coffee and tea. And with a 10-year Treasury yield of 3.2%, I'm quite happy to collect a 3.4% dividend from Coke.

Philip Morris International may not be a particularly feel-good pick considering its core cigarette-slinging business, but from an investor perspective, it sports a great yield and should have a solid future as it rides the rock-solid Marlboro brand. And while tissues, paper towels, and diapers may not be an exciting product mix, it's one that's made Kimberly Clark a very successful company and yet another attractive dividend payer.

For investors looking for growth in the consumer staples arena, CVS Caremark and its archrival Walgreen (NYSE: WAG) could be good picks. Of course, the growth potential for both of these pharmacies lies in their prescription drug bent, rather than the sales of groceries and various knick-knacks.

For those who want even more growth potential, though, it can be found by getting away from the megacaps. Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (Nasdaq: GMCR) has been taking the coffee world by storm with its Keurig coffee maker and single-serving K-Cups. Whole Foods, meanwhile, has been a growth-investor favorite for some time, though recent years haven't been without their stumbles. Beware, though, if you want to chase either of these fast-growers, you're going to have to pay up for the privilege, and don't bother if dividends are your bag.

There's one massive consumer staple stock I didn't talk about here, and my fellow Fool Jim Royal thinks it's a must-have stock.

Coca-Cola and Wal-Mart are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. Green Mountain is a Rule Breakers choice. Whole Foods Market is a Stock Advisor recommendation. Philip Morris International is a Global Gains pick. Kimberly Clark and Coca-Cola are Income Investor picks. The Fool owns shares of Coca-Cola. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Fool contributor Matt Koppenheffer owns shares of Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart, and Philip Morris International, but does not own shares of any of the other companies mentioned. You can check out what Matt is keeping an eye on by visiting his CAPS portfolio, or you can follow Matt on Twitter @KoppTheFool or on his RSS feed. The Fool's disclosure policy assures you no Wookiees were harmed in the making of this article.