As Foolish investors, we know that the latest word from Wall Street is often best taken as a source of amusement, rather than as ivory-tower insight. But sometimes, the Street does get it right -- and that appears to be the case with Ralcorp Holdings (NYSE:RAH), a manufacturer of private-label food staples that's gaining steam with the trade-down effect.

As cash-strapped consumers abandon brand loyalty and wheel their grocery carts toward the cheap stuff, Ralcorp is well positioned to benefit from its full line of snacks, sweets, condiments, and sauces. Now it's enjoying an analyst upgrade, a Forbes endorsement, and even a big "boo-yah" from Jim Cramer.

To understand why, just keep an eye on fellow shoppers' buying habits the next time you're at the supermarket. Even if you can only identify a move from, say, ultra-pricey Hain Celestial (NASDAQ:HAIN) products to Costco's (NASDAQ:COST) Kirkland brand, it's a reasonable bet that a lot of consumers in these trying economic times are also abandoning Kellogg (NYSE:K) in favor of Ralcorp's knock-off store brands.

But Ralcorp would be an attractive investment even without the trade-down effect. In its fourth quarter of 2008, 68% of its sales growth came from Post Foods, which it acquired from Kraft Foods (NYSE:KFT) earlier in the year. That acquisition gives Ralcorp a mix of premium and generic brands that distinguishes it from competitor Treehouse Foods (NYSE:THS). Moreover, Ralcorp holds an approximately 19% interest in Vail Resorts (NYSE:MTN), which, ostensibly, offers the company a good chance to take part in any economic upturn.

Ralcorp isn't a classic blue-chip name; but many such stalwarts have revealed an inner shade of periwinkle in 2008. And as fellow Fool Julie Clarenbach recently counseled, playing traditional defense in today's nontraditional market is a dangerous game.

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Fool contributor Mike Pienciak continues to support local farmers and producers by shopping at his neighborhood greenmarket. He does not hold shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story. Vail Resorts is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems pick. Kraft Foods is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. Costco is a Motley Fool Inside Value and Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick. The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.