Thanksgiving provides food for thought and, for investors, potential gain. The stocks of companies selling food in line with the holiday's "fresh and natural" theme are in, while the shares of the old-line packaged food giants are out.
Shifting trends in per capita consumption are reflected in stock gains on both ends. Shares of the behemoths -- PepsiCo (PEP) , Unilever (UN) , Coca Cola (KO) , General Mills (GIS) , Kraft Heinz (KHC) , Nestle (NSRGY) and Kellogg (K) -- have failed to keep pace with the S&P 500 stock index over the past five years.
However, over the same period, the opposite has been true for numerous fresh, organic and natural food producers. Indeed, their stocks have left the index far behind. They include companies like Hain Celestial (HAIN) , WhiteWave (WWAV) , Cal-Maine (CALM) , Fresh Del Monte (FDP) and Calavo Growers (CVGW) .
To be sure, there are risks involved investing in this second group of stocks. The companies are all small-capitalization stocks and investors may have to endure a more volatile ride than with any of lumbering giants they may cast aside.
Hain Celestial provides a case in point, very possibly to the advantage of new investors. After reaching an all-time high just before the market's August correction, shares of the Arrowhead Mills organic baking products maker fell sharply and continued to fall.
Perhaps just as well. The stock may very likely have overreached. It had been trading at a price to earnings multiple of 46 or more than twice that of the average small-cap.
Now, it may be oversold. Its current multiple of 23 is in line with others companies its size, yet it is still producing premium returns. Sales and earning gains, out earlier this month, were well into double-digits, the kind Hain produces consistently.
More of the same is expected by analysts out to five years. Not surprisingly, they've lined up behind the stock with, according to Zacks Investment Research, an overall strong buy rating. Twelve of the eighteen analysts in the survey give it the highest recommendation (i.e. six holds).
WhiteWave took a similar tumble from its all-time high (after just two years as an independent company), though not as far. Shares of the producer of Horizon Organic milk and other fresh products still command a stock price higher than similar companies, but with these shares earnings projections may merit it.
Profit estimations out five years are far higher -- by more than 50% -- than the healthy projections for Hain and analysts are supporting it accordingly. An even larger majority -- 15 of the 18 companies tracked by Zacks -- give WhiteWave a strong buy (i.e. plus one buy and two holds) for an overall strong buy rating.
The stocks of fresh food producers Cal-Maine, Fresh Del Monte and Calavo have also been impressive. All have beaten the index over the past one, five and 10 years.
Cal-Maine stands out in a number of ways. It's cheap with a P/E multiple of just 10 and offers a dividend yield of 3.7%. Also, as the nation's number one egg producer, it's riding an upsurge in per-capita egg consumption over the past four years, particularly the organic and cage-free variety. Still, earnings projections do not rise to the level of Hain or WhiteWave.
Produce producers Calavo and Fresh Del Monte trail the others, but their stocks have performed more consistently, beating the S&P 500 handily even in the short run and no analyst tracked by Zacks has a sell rating on any of the last three stocks.