In the restaurant and packaged food space, Brinker International ( EAT) has seen rapid growth in recent quarters. The company owns Chili's restaurant, which reported sales increases of 1% (even with traffic declines of nearly 2%). POS systems and updated kitchen technology are key examples of the company's growth investments which are expected to improve on overall efficiency of the company and to generate cost savings. The company's stock price is made more attractive by its EPS estimate $2.60 for 2014, dividend yields at 2.5%, and $500 million in expected share buybacks.

Dole Foods ( DOLE) is a more traditional choice for those looking for exposure in packaged foods. Recent analyst upgrades have been based largely on strong cash flow but markets have yet to respond, with share prices dropping by 6.6% so far this year. This pullback opportunity should be viewed in light of the broader bullish environment for the space, as there is still significant upside potential for value investors as we move into the later parts of this year.

Original Soup Man ( SOUP) rounds out the choices for the packaged food space, and offers an alternative option for those focused on growth prospects. The company's $17 million market cap is supported by its well-publicized #1 Zagat rating as the "best-tasting soup in the world."



Soup Man's dual product approach (offering its items in both restaurants and supermarkets) has been touted as advantageous by CEOs at its larger competitors. Soupman recently increased its distribution partnerships, adding more than 200 Harris Teeter stores to its list of active customers. Plans for continued national expansion make SOUP a solid long-term investment choice for investors looking to add to growth portfolios.

Food prices have been on the rise for most of the last decade, and most indicators suggest that these trends will not end anytime soon. Population growth puts upward pressure on food demand and global supply levels have encountered numerous factors that limit output potential.

This bullish scenario for food companies has received long-term validation from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, which projects that global food output will need to increase by 70% before 2050 in order to keep pace with global population trends.

This adds to the safety of long-term investments in this space as the above-listed companies benefit from the consistent cash flow that is generated by these factors. These companies also benefit from regular dividend offerings and are shielded from many of the risks associated with the use of new technology items.

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At the time of publication the author had no position in any of the stocks mentioned.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.
Richard Cox is a university teacher in international trade and finance. His articles appear on a variety of Web sites, including Seeking Alpha, Marketbulls.net, FX Street and others. Investing strategies are based on technical and fundamental analysis of all the major asset classes (stock, currencies and commodities). Trade ideas are generally based on time horizons of one to six months.

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