Updated from 8:49 a.m. EDT
We've all heard the story: During a recession, consumers turn to comfort foods, both for affordability and, well, for comfort.
Many people are foregoing the dinners out and cooking at home. Others are turning to fast food, a perfectly unhealthy combination of cheap and comforting.
, which has been trading near the middle of its 52-week range for months, has been edging lower lately, and Jim Cramer said on Monday that it's "
getting too cheap to pass up
A comfort-food standout is dry-pasta producer
American Italian Pasta
, which counts
and whose performance
The stock has been on a steady rise for the past year from a 52-week low of $4.26, setting
, the last of which occurred on Feb. 25 at the $33.50 level. On Feb. 12, it reported that it earned $26 million, or $1.23 a share, in the prior quarter, compared with year-ago earnings of $1.4 million, or 7 cents a share. It closed down 35 cents, or 1.2%, at $30.41 on Wednesday, March 11.
On Feb. 19's "Mad Money" episode, Jim Cramer said the stock was "
exactly what you should be buying
This makes sense within the comfort-food theory. Pasta, of course, is an ultimate comfort food. Who wouldn't find solace in Grandma's cheesy lasagna, a rich fettuccine alfredo or a perfect-for-leftovers cheeseburger casserole? Its versatility is another draw, crossing cuisine boundaries and allowing for both the most basic and high-end culinary creations. Pair your elbow noodles with tomato sauce from the can, or dress up your whole wheat linguine with leeks or roasted fennel.
Plus, by all accounts, the stuff's delicious.
Sticking with the pasta theme, let's take a look at some other comfort-food stocks and see how they've been faring lately.
Once you've got your pasta, you need your sauce. Simple options include olive oil or butter with a sprinkle of
parmesan cheese, or a premade canned sauce, such as
Hunt's brand makes a sauce, too, or you can pick up its canned tomatoes and make your own.
Campbell Soup announced on Feb. 23 that
its second-quarter profit had dropped 15%
, though Cramer said it was a "
decent quarter with good margin growth
." On Wednesday, it closed down 72 cents, or 2.7%, at $25.59 after hitting a new 52-week low of $25.54 earlier in the day. It yields 3.9%.
Heinz, which is one of
due to weaker consumer behavior. On Feb. 24, Heinz announced that
third-quarter profit rose 11%
, but Cramer
. It closed on Wednesday down 47 cents, or 1.5%, at $31.48, after hitting a 52-week low of $30.51 on Friday. Heinz yields 5.4%.
ConAgra yields 5.3% and closed down 56 cents, or 3.8%, at $14.02 on Wednesday. On the
Cramer said that he liked ConAgra. "Like every other food stock, they're going down, but I like that yield. I'd buy on a scale on the way down," he said.
If time's an issue, you might want to buy your pasta with sauce included. Kid-friendly brands include ConAgra's Chef Boyardee canned pastas and
Hamburger Helper. For big broods, add extra pasta (and water) to the Hamburger Helper mix; it cuts down on the sodium, too.
Quaker brand also offers pasta-and-sauce mixes in such flavors as creamy parmesan, stroganoff and primavera.
Cramer owns General Mills for his
charitable trust and on Feb. 24 said it "
." It yields 3.5% and closed down 76 cents, or 1.5%, to $49.43 on Wednesday after hitting a new 52-week low of $49.17 earlier in the day.
He also owns Pepsi, which he said on
he prefers to
. Pepsi yields 3.7% and closed up 82 cents, or 1.8%, at $47.42 on Tuesday.
And you can't go wrong with a classic. Kraft, whose Macaroni & Cheese kids adore and adults nostalgically indulge in, is owned by Buffett, though even the master investor's portfolio has been
taking a beating
lately. Kraft, which yields about 5.1%, hit a 52-week low of $20.81 on March 5 and closed down 48 cents, or 2.2%, on Wednesday at $21.32.
Of course, if you're going to make all that pasta, you'll need a good stock pot. Popular choices are the Calphalon brand from
Kitchen Aid line.
Newell Rubbermaid, which hit a 52-week low on March 9 of $4.51, closed up 6 cents, or 1.3%, at $4.86 on Wednesday; it yields a hearty 9.3%. Whirlpool closed up $1.30, or 5.6%, at $24.41 after
reiterating its expectations-beating outlook for the year
. It yields 8.9%.
For low-budget restaurant pasta, check out the Olive Garden, owned by
Pizza Hut, whose pasta, according to the commercials, is easily confused with high-end restaurant concoctions.
Darden yields 2.9% and closed down 18 cents at $26.79 on Wednesday. Cramer recently
. Yum!, one of TSC Ratings' top five
for Feb. 24, yields 3.2% and closed up 46 cents, or 1.8% at $25.40.