I hold Sealed Air (NYSE:SEE) personally responsible for the decline of the American butcher and meat shop.

OK, OK, it's not really its fault. You could probably blame that one on Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) (along, it would seem, with tooth decay, uneven tire wear, and male pattern baldness). But there's no doubt that Sealed Air's Cryovac food packaging makes case-ready meat shipments from the likes of Tyson (NYSE:TSN) and Hormel (NYSE:HRL) viable and appealing.

Unfortunately for Sealed Air, there are two problems with the business model. First, about two-thirds of sales come from food packaging, and that's not a great growth market (though that could change overseas). Second, the company makes its packaging out of plastics, and those raw material prices have shot up with energy prices and hurricane disruptions.

As a result, Sealed Air's fourth quarter wasn't exactly all that it could be. Sure, sales were up 6% -- not too bad. Interestingly enough, both the food and protective packaging businesses posted 6% growth. The trouble lay in the margins. Gross margin fell more than two and a half points, and the operating margin (excluding restructuring charges) fell by about two points. Subtract a loss on refinancing as well, and what looked like a strong net income growth performance (up 141% as reported) was a lot less impressive.

Looking ahead, I can see some reasons for confidence. First, the company is building a facility in China, and anybody who has traveled in the developing world can tell you that there's plenty of room for improvement in terms of sanitation and food packaging in countries like India and China. Second, polyethylene prices have started to ease off, and if that stays the case, it'll help Sealed Air's margins. What's more, the company also wants to get into medical packaging, which could certainly boost growth.

I like the company and its improving returns on invested capital, but I'm probably more inclined toward paper packager Packaging Corp (NYSE:PKG) or large conglomerate and Motley Fool Inside Value pick 3M (NYSE:MMM), which I already own. I don't believe Tyson's bad beef news today is a huge worry for Sealed Air, and I do see a lot of overseas potential. But I'd want a better price before buying.

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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson owns shares of 3M, but has no financial interest in any other stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).