Image: John Bean Technologies.

Diversification is a hallmark of investment portfolios, and John Bean Technologies (JBT -1.81%) has followed that tenet in putting together two businesses that have little to do with each other. The company has followed in the footsteps of Manitowoc (MTW 0.37%) in making food-processing equipment, but unlike the crane maker, John Bean Technologies also works on providing jetways and towing equipment used in airport operations.

Coming into Tuesday's fourth-quarter financial report, John Bean Technologies investors were looking for modest gains in sales and earnings, but the company actually gave investors a lot more than they had hoped to see. Let's take a closer look at John Bean Technologies' latest results, and what they say about the company going forward.

John Bean Technologies' delicious financials
John Bean's fourth-quarter results were much more attractive than most had expected. Sales climbed 20%, to $354.4 million, nearly doubling the 10.5% growth rate that most of those following the stock were looking to see. John Bean produced net income of $20.9 million, and that worked out to earnings of $0.70 per share, which was $0.08 higher than the consensus forecast among investors.

Taking a closer look at how John Bean did, the company continued in the same trends it has followed in recent quarters. FoodTech segment sales jumped 37%; the unit now accounts for more than two-thirds of the company's overall revenue. By contrast, revenue for the AeroTech airport operations business slumped 6%. Pre-tax income numbers tell a similar story: FoodTech operating profit jumped more than 30%, but AeroTech profits eased downward by about 1%.

The difference between the two key units wasn't as obvious from order-related numbers. Inbound orders for FoodTech jumped by more than half, to $253.2 million, but AeroTech orders almost doubled, to $138.4 million. Backlogs rose by a wider margin at FoodTech than at AeroTech, but overall, John Bean's total backlog was up 42%, to $520.7 million, up by nearly $60 million in just the past three months.

Still, the disparities between the two businesses are likely part of what prompted John Bean competitor Manitowoc to take more-aggressive action. Manitowoc intends to spin off its food-service division in March, helping it avoid the downward pressure that being combined with Manitowoc's crane business has brought. Manitowoc hopes that the move will unlock shareholder value, and if the timing is good, then an uptick in construction activity could boost the surviving crane business, as well.

John Bean CEO Tom Giacomini was happy with the company's efforts. "Execution of our Next Level strategy is fundamentally changing the way we operate," Giacomini said, "expanding profitability and enhancing our growth prospects."

What's next for John Bean?
Looking forward, John Bean Technologies expects further gains. As the CEO said, "We entered 2016 with strong order momentum that is reflected in our expanded backlog," and John Bean's 2016 guidance acknowledges those positive impacts. The company expects revenue growth of 15%, of which roughly two-thirds will come from acquisitions, and the remaining four to five percentage points from organic growth. Expansion in operating margins should produce adjusted earnings of $2.15 to $2.30 per share, which compares favorably to the $2.11 per-share consensus estimate among investors currently.

Indeed, John Bean hasn't hesitated to keep making acquisitions. Just last week, the company bought assets from X-ray food inspection specialist Novus X-Ray, which John Bean said it will integrate into its Protein and Liquid Foods systems. By helping detect metals and other foreign materials early in the food-production process, this equipment can boost food safety.

Investors were pleased with John Bean's results, sending the stock up more than 4% in after-hours trading following the announcement. Regardless of whether John Bean decides to follow Manitowoc's spinoff move, or keep its two component parts together, there's reason to think the company has the ability to continue being successful in 2016 and beyond.