They railed and wailed that Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) would be the death of us, but now that push has come to shove, what we find is that the deep discounter is a lifesaver.

It's true I never understood the critics who complained about a company that made offering the absolute lowest prices an everyday affair, but when the economy tanks, unemployment rolls are swelling, and inflation is chomping at the bit from the mass infusion of cash into the economy, consumers are more than happy to stretch their meager dollars as far as they can at a Wal-Mart superstore.

And the numbers back that up. Revenues for the retailer have been growing at a steady 10% clip annualized over the past five years while over the last twelve months, gross and operating income are growing at double digit rates. Same store sales are also performing well with the retailer being able to maintain low single digit growth even in the face of consumer spending cutbacks.

Should we question whether Wal-Mart's good fortune is coming at the expense of squeezing its suppliers too much? Hardly. Companies don't have to sell their goods on the retailer's shelves, but they know there's no exposure like Wal-Mart exposure. In fact, it's doing shoppers good even if they're not shopping at Wal-Mart.

Kraft (NYSE:KFT) and Kellogg (NYSE:K) just reported some robust profits the other day, earned as a result of price increases on their goods. Sure, they need to offset their increased costs, but with fuel costs on the decline, supermarkets like Kroger (NYSE:KR) and Safeway (NYSE:SWY) are resisting further price increases. Why? To be able to compete more effectively against Wal-Mart!

Organizations like Wake-Up Wal-Mart and Wal-Mart Watch can always find something to obsess over. The company shifts U.S. job overseas. It wants to provide shoppers with even more access to its stores by building 1,000 more. And of course, it made the list of 10 most controversial companies issued by environmental consultancy ECOFACT.

Yet, ordinary consumers needing to make ends meet know that Wal-Mart is the destination spot to head for, outpacing even other discounters like Target (NYSE:TGT), which has been suffering from declining comps. That overriding need is leading Wal-Mart to forecast sales growth for the rest of the year at around 8% and between 5% and 7% for next year.

In boom times, you might feel more tempted to take the retailer to task for perceived slights, but when the economy turns sour, the value proposition of Wal-Mart becomes apparent to larger swaths of consumers. For investors, though, the retailer's steady operations make it one we can profit from as well.

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Kraft Foods is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. Wal-Mart Stores is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Rich Duprey owns shares of Wal-Mart and Kroger but does not have a financial position in any of the other stocks mentioned in this article. You can see his holdings here. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.