Dividend-paying companies are an oasis in the desert of underperforming stocks. They offer solid payouts today and the promise of capital gains tomorrow. According to a study by Ibbotson, reinvested dividends made up about 40% of total stock returns from 1926 to 2006. In fact, dividend investing is so appealing that super investor Warren Buffett has made it a significant component of his portfolio.

When searching for great dividend stocks, it makes a lot of sense to start with companies that have been playing the dividend game the longest. Standard & Poor's has culled the dividend winners from the also-rans in a list it calls the "dividend aristocrats."

Let's examine the top dividend aristocrats by yield in the food and beverage industry. For context, I've also included their five-year annualized dividend growth rate.

Company

Yield

Five-year dividend growth

PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP)

2.9%

13.4%

Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO)

2.8%

9.5%

McCormick (NYSE: MKC)

2.4%

9.9%

Archer-Daniels-Midland (NYSE: ADM)

1.9%

12.0%

Hormel Foods (NYSE: HRL)

1.8%

10.8%

Brown-Forman (NYSE: BF-B)

1.8%

8.4%

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

These aren't formal recommendations -- just ideas for your own further research. Still, they could give you a great start toward find companies capable of paying rising dividends for a quarter-century or more. You can see the fastest-growing 2011 aristocrats here.

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Jim Royal, Ph.D., does not own shares of any company mentioned here. Coca-Cola is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. Coca-Cola, McCormick, and PepsiCo are Income Investor choices. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on PepsiCo. The Fool owns shares of Coca-Cola and PepsiCo. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.