Kraft Foods

(KFT)

says fourth-quarter profit fell 72%, but investors should take note that

restructuring is to blame

. Sales rose 6.2% and while that's less than analysts expected, who cares? What did these analysts expect anyway?

The company said the missed sales number is due to retailers marking down prices and trimming inventories. Well, I don't know about the analysts, but I expected that to happen. I mean, we're in a recession and consumers are going to be frugal. How hard is that to figure out?

So let's not get too down on Kraft. People still need to eat. Watch the food sales for guidance and take note that the company is predicting

growth

in sales for 2009.

Now on to

Costco

(COST) - Get Report

. The wholesale club chain warns today that

second-quarter earnings will fall

"substantially below" analysts forecasts of 70 cents a share.

What's the deal? Costco says the economic downturn is hurting "non-foods, and merchandise margins." Will analysts be surprised and disappointed? They shouldn't be. The company said the same thing back in December, when it reported first-quarter operating results.

Just remember that food -- from snacks and drinks to packaged products to fresh meat and product - account for about 54% of sales at Costco. So watch the food! Unfortunately, Costco doesn't say much about the food business in its report today, so I hope some analysts will be smart enough to ask about that on today's conference call.

Ditto for

General Mills

(GIS) - Get Report

. When you see reports from their presentation at the Consumer Analyst Group of New York Conference on Feb. 17, focus on the food.

There may be talk about revaluing commodity positions or currency costs from international operations -- all valid issues to be aware of -- but I have a hunch General Mills will say that demand for basic food products remains solid.

Last we heard from the company, back in December, sales were up 11% in the first six months of fiscal 2009.

Keep all this in mind when

Unilever

(UN) - Get Report

reports fourth-quarter earnings on Thursday. The maker of the Bertolli, Hellmann's, Knorr and Lipton brands generates 54% of sales from food products (the rest come from personal care brands such as Dove and Vaseline). This is a Dutch-British conglomerate with a lot of international exposure and some big exchange rate headaches. So let food be your guide -- though lower price personal care products like Sunsilk and Axe should be holding up in recessionary times as well.

Whatever the analysts say, be sure to consider the food factor and make up your own mind about whether all of these companies will hold up during the downturn on the basis of the basic need to eat.

Hall is the editor of

TheStreet.com

. Previously, he served as deputy editor and chief innovation officer at

The Orange County Register

and as a news manager at

Bloomberg News

in Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Washington, D.C. As a reporter, he covered business and financial markets, worked in both print and television in the U.S. and Europe, and conducted in-depth investigative coverage at

The Journal-Gazette

in Fort Wayne, Ind. His work also has been published in a variety of newspapers including

The Wall Street Journal

,

The New York Times

and

International Herald Tribune

. Hall received a bachelor�s degree in journalism and political science from The Ohio State University and has taken graduate management science courses at Boston University.