One of the great certainties of life is that everyone has to eat. Yet few people know just how we get fed. Behind the scenes of the global food chain, it takes a lot of work to get crops from the farm to the table. Processing and a global transportation network are required to ensure that crops and markets remain connected. Also, the worldwide demand for food should continue to grow as the world's population rises and the level of incomes in emerging markets increases.

What's the best play on the world food market?  
At the heart of the global food chain is Archer Daniels Midland (NYSE:ADM). Archer Daniels Midland is one of the leaders when it comes to food processing. The company has over 30,000 employees who work at more than 265 processing plants to convert corn, oilseeds, wheat, and cocoa into products for food, animal feed, and industrial and energy uses. Archer Daniels' competitive advantage is its global footprint. The company is able to source crops in countries which have large supplies and move those crops to countries where they are needed.

Ingredion (NYSE:INGR) is another, lesser-known company in the food space. Its focuses are starches and sweeteners, animal feed, and edible corn oil. I still prefer Archer Daniels given its diversity across more food groups, but Ingredion does pay a higher dividend yield of 2.6% and it is rather cheap, trading at less than 13 times earnings. Meanwhile, Bunge Limited (NYSE:BG) is one of Archer Daniels' top competitors. The company operates globally across the agribusiness, sugar and bioenergy, food and ingredients, and fertilizer businesses. 

The continued race for the global market
Archer Daniels suffered a setback last year when the Australian government rejected the company's plan to buy Australian grain trader GrainCorp for $2.5 billion. That denial is looking like a blessing for Archer Daniels as the Australian grain market gets more competitive. Even still, the company continues to look for opportunities, which includes acquisitions or investments that will give it exposure in Eastern Europe, Asia, and South America. 

Archer Daniels Midland is expanding its agricultural services across the globe. Key moves for the company include its acquisition of processing plants in Europe, its expansion of crushing capacities in North America, and its expansion of fertilizer blending and biodiesel capacities in South America.

On the other hand, Bunge is already setting up new plants and transport facilities in Canada and Brazil. Bunge is also looking to purchase more facilities in Canada and Australia. While Ingredion is also a global company, I'm less excited about its prospects. Its business model is centered on making foods and beverages taste better. 

Beating consensus and coming in ahead of schedule on savings costs are a solid combo 
Archer Daniels Midland posted fourth-quarter earnings that were down 27% year-over-year. However, the company still managed to beat consensus expectations by an impressive 10%. This came as its corn processing profit jumped by 100% year-over-year, and the company's ahead of schedule when it comes to cost-saving efforts. Although the company failed to offer any guidance, it's still seeing impressive demand globally for its products.

How the shares trade 
Archer Daniels has a dividend yield of 2.4%, which is only a 33% payout of its earnings. As far as valuation goes, Archer Daniels Midland trades at an enterprise value/EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization) multiple of 10.4. This valuation is below that of major competitor Bunge, which trades at a multiple of 14.1. Archer also offers a better dividend yield, as Bunge has a dividend yield of only 1.5%. For Archer Daniels, a $45 price target assumes that Archer Daniels Midland should be trading at around 14 times next year's earnings, which is well below its five-year average price/earnings multiple of 18.

Bottom line
Right now, it's tough to argue that Archer Daniels will not perform well going forward as the global population grows. It's continuing to expand its presence in both developed and emerging markets, which should help it deliver share price appreciation to shareholders, in addition to its 2.4% dividend yield. It looks to be an exciting year as Archer Daniels continues to service the global food market.

Marshall Hargrave has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. 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.