Food processing firm ConAgra Foods (CAG) has performed around double what the rest of the market has managed in 2013, climbing more than 13% year-to-date as food commodity costs settle. CAG owns a portfolio of well-known food and kitchen product brands, such as Parkay, Healthy Choice and Chef Boyardee -- and relying on those brands has been CAG's saving grace in this market.
While the firm got hit hard by consumers' willingness to trade down to store brands during the recession, it's enjoying the counter-cycle right now. CAG took the recession as an opportunity to shake out its less defensible brands and focus on the higher-margin labels in its portfolio. That more attractive positioning should make ConAgra better able to withstand future economic hiccups down the road. It should also calm at least some concerns over rising input costs - stronger brands let CAG pass some of those costs onto customers.CAG currently sports a decent balance sheet and a hefty dividend payout, two factors that look attractive in the exceptionally low-rate environment that investors are currently stuck in. The firm's next earnings call in March could be a big catalyst for shares.-- Written by Jonas Elmerraji in Baltimore.
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