The next time you toss a bag of Orville Redenbacher popcorn in the microwave, or buy a box of Crunch 'n' Munch instead of my favorite Cracker Jack (the prizes used to be so much better, but the peanuts still sink down to the bottom), know that you have aided the sales of ConAgra Foods (NYSE:CAG).

The company, which also makes health-conscious foods such as Healthy Choice and Egg Beaters, reported a 41% (year over year) increase in net earnings for the fourth quarter of fiscal 2004. ConAgra's retail food segment, which makes up about 58% of its total sales, contributed to the 9% sales growth through increased sales of Hebrew National, La Choy, Manwich, and others.

The real effort to improve results at ConAgra has come from management's focus to sell unproductive businesses and replace them with assets that better fit the company's strategic goals. The company has also implemented several profit-enhancing initiatives and continues to use excess cash to buy back its shares (7 million shares were repurchased in the fourth quarter alone).

ConAgra and its competitors, Kraft (NYSE:KFT), Sara Lee (NYSE:SLE), and Nestle, have fought to cut costs in a difficult commodity-pricing environment. With food prices fluctuating as much as Anna Nicole Smith's weight, it's no wonder that ConAgra's management is divesting non-core operations and trimming its own operating fat.

ConAgra shares, which are currently trading at a bloated 16 times the fiscal 2005 EPS estimate of $1.67 per share, appear to be overvalued purely against its 8% growth rate. However, I agree with fellow Fool W.D. Crotty who said that the dividend saves ConAgra. The company's 3.9% dividend yield is definitely attractive for investors that value a solid dividend the way they do a heaping scoop of Peter Pan peanut butter.

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Fool contributor Phil Wohl spent more than 12 years on Wall Street and now concentrates his writing on more fictional characters. He has no stake in any firm mentioned above.