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Better Than Coke, Pepsi: No-Name Soda

BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- Coca-Cola (KO), PepsiCo (PEP) and Dr. Pepper Snapple Group (DPS) have nothing on soft-drink maker National Beverage (FIZZ - Get Report).

The pint-sized company, with a market value of only $579 million, offers impressive fundamentals. But, unlike many smaller firms, it's committed to shareholder returns. In December, National Beverage declared a $2.30 cash dividend, equal to a 17% distribution yield on declaration, to ensure that its stockholders would benefit from preferential dividend-tax treatment amid congressional uncertainty.

In 2009, National Beverage paid a $1.35 dividend, equal to a yield over 11% on declaration date. The Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based company doesn't enjoy much name recognition, with brands ranging from Shasta to Crystal Bay, but its business is well-managed and there is reason to expect further dividends, given its debt-free balance sheet.

National Beverage is a peripheral beverage player. It's focused on the health-conscious U.S. consumer, selling energy drinks, fortified powders and enhanced juice and water. It has 12 manufacturing facilities in major urban centers. It distributes products through supermarkets, convenience stores, restaurants, schools, hospitals and wholesale clubs. Its geographic focus and efficient network has elevated the company to the fourth-largest U.S. carbonated-drink seller.

The company's strategy has yielded strong fundamentals. For example, the gross and operating profit margins, at 39% and more than 10%, respectively, are reasonable, in light of National Beverage's secondary-brand status. However, Coke, Pepsi and Dr. Pepper have superior profit spreads.

Coke, Gross: 69%, Operating: 19%
Pepsi, Gross: 58%, Operating: 14%
Dr. Pepper, Gross: 62%, Operating: 19%

The larger beverage manufacturers also have fast-growing emerging-markets units. Still, in the performance category, National Beverage has delivered. Its stock has gained 20% a year, on average, since 2008, besting Coke's 3.3% annualized return, Pepsi's 3.3% annualized loss and Dr. Pepper's 5% annualized increase. In the case of soda stocks, bigger isn't necessarily better. Other top performers include Cott (COT), which has rallied 54% a year, on average, since 2008, and Hansen (HANS), which has climbed 10% annually. Jones Soda (JSDA), down 36% a year, has doubled in the past 12 months as earnings stretched 8.3%.

Similar to the craft-beer movement, there may be a craft-soda movement afoot. Hip consumers enjoy regional brands such as those offered by National, throwbacks like Cott's RC Cola, and unique flavors like the green-apple and blue-bubble gum tonics of Jones Soda.
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