Do frozen TV dinners demand a place in your portfolio?

09/23/2009 9:07 am EST

Focus: STOCKS

Jim Jubak

Founder and Editor, JubakPicks.com

I'm constantly on the lookout for products (and companies and stocks) that are positioned to make more money in the near term from the frugal times ahead or that in the longer term address the demands of an aging population.

The recent quarterly results from ConAgra Foods (CAG) put TV dinners on my radar screen for both the near and longer-term.

ConAgra reported first quarter earnings on September 22 that beat Wall Street projections (even though revenue fell by 3.1% from the first quarter a year earlier.) And the company raised its own earnings projections for fiscal 2010 nto $1.70 a share. Wall Street had been projecting $1.66 in earnings per share.

 The surprise came from the company's Consumer Foods segment, which makes up about 60% of sales. The biggest gains came from the company's Healthy Choice, Hunt’s, Marie Callender’s, Orville Redenbacher’s, and Snack Pack brands. All of those stress convenience and two, Healthy Choice and Mari Callender, focus on the frozen prepared foods market.

What I'd call frozen TV dinners.

Which has me thinking. U.S. consumers may have less money in the current squeeze but they have even less time. That sounds like a combination that makes frozen dinners an attractive option for a growing number of consumers. Especially if the frozen dinner is a brand with a reputation for being a little bit better, such as the Health Choice brand.

That's the argument for near-term growth.

In the longer term, as we age as a nation, we're going to be looking to feed ourselves with less effort. (Less expense is a plus here too since last time I peaked  at my retirement portfolio it was still looking a little stressed after two bear markets in the last ten years.)

I don't think that ConAgra is the stock I want to own to ride these trends. The company owns an awful lot of second and third tier brands such as Banquet and Chef Boyardee that showed sales declines in the quarter.

Still I think the trend is worth investing in. And I've started to scout around for the best horse in the race.

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