Eggs are the source of one big dividend payer's income.

Many stocks are known for their defensive characteristics, and consumer-goods stocks are often among the most resilient in market downturns because of loyal customers who still need their products. Some of the best-known consumer stocks pay dividend yields that are well above the market's average, and the combination of current income and protection against the full brunt of a possible bear market is attractive to risk-averse investors. Let's take a look at three consumer stocks with above-average yields to see if they deserve a closer look.

Drink to stronger growth
Anheuser-Busch InBev
(NYSE:BUD) is well known in the U.S. for its landmark Budweiser brand, but the company has a global footprint with a substantial presence in just about every corner of the globe. For dividend investors, Anheuser-Busch's 3% dividend yield has been a nice stream of income to go along with steady price appreciation in its shares.

Anheuser-Busch has been in the news lately because of its $104 billion takeover bid for rival SABMiller. Although the deal would add to the company's leadership position in the global beer market, many investors rightly worry that the huge cash component of the buyout bid will force the company to cut its dividend if the merger goes through. Based on pricing of certain derivative contracts related to the stock's payout, institutional investors now expect Anheuser-Busch to cut its coming semi-annual payment by a third. The growth potential from acquiring SABMiller might outweigh that cut in generating total return, but for those relying on income, a reduction would be an unwelcome result of a merger.

Driving toward dividend success
(NYSE:F) has ridden the wave of optimism in the U.S. auto industry to higher share prices over the past several years, as investors have lauded the company's ability to survive the financial crisis without declaring bankruptcy or getting government financial assistance. Indeed, dividend investors have made out well, with the company doubling its dividend in 2013 and following up with annual increases of 20% to 25% in each of the past two years.

Ford's stock has stalled out so far this year, as challenges related to the rollout of the new aluminum-body F-150 pickup truck as well as the rollout of new Edge and remodeled Explorer models weighed on earnings in the first half of 2015. Yet the automaker now believes that its profits could accelerate into the end of the year, and that would bode well for the prospects of a dividend boost toward the beginning of 2016.

Egging on investors with income
Cal-Maine Foods (NASDAQ:CALM) has seen its stock price soar this year, and its dividend payments have followed suit. Despite what appears to be a rather pedestrian 2% yield, Cal-Maine's November dividend payment will triple to more than $0.98 per share, working out to a 6% yield on an annualized basis.

Cal-Maine has a variable dividend policy that's based on the company's income, so the fact that egg prices have hit record levels recently has been a boon not just to share prices but also to the amount that the company pays out each quarter. Bird flu is to blame for the egg-price spike, as millions of birds were killed and production supplies fell accordingly. The U.S. Department of Agriculture thinks that it could take a while for producers to bounce back, with egg prices potentially staying high through the rest of the year and into 2016. At some point, though, investors expect egg prices to normalize and for Cal-Maine's earnings to fall from peak levels, and if that happens, it will cause dividends to decline back toward past levels.

Defensive investors like to look closely at consumer stocks because of their relative stability even during challenging economic conditions. For dividend investors, making sure how sustainable a high yield is can be essential to protect yourself from nasty surprises down the road. Although Cal-Maine's success seems related to a temporary price spike for eggs and Anheuser-Busch's dividend could be at risk, the gains at Ford could be more sustainable in the long run.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.