3 Top Dividend Stocks in Consumer Staples

By Jeremy Bowman Markets Fool.com

Consumer staples companies -- household products makers likeProcter & Gamble(NYSE: PG) and beverage makers likeCoca-Cola(NYSE: KO)-- are generally regarded as some of the best dividend stocks on the market.

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These are stocks that tend be defensive by nature, as demand for products like toothpaste is stable no matter what the overall economy is doing. Thanks to their strong collection of brands, they also tend to have solid profit margins, which enables them to return billions of dollars in capital to shareholders in the form of buybacks and dividends.

For investors looking to balance out their portfolios with some defensive, consumer-based dividend stocks, here are three choices that won't disappoint.

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1. Altria

Altria(NYSE: MO), the Marlboro parent and former parent ofPhilip Morris International(NYSE: PM), is one of the best-performing stocks of the last 50 years when dividends are included.

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Despite smoking's decline in the U.S., Altria has been able to grow profits by raising prices and introducing products in new categories like e-cigarettes with its MarkTen brand.

Cigarettes have proven to be incredibly inelastic products -- U.S. consumers pay upwards of $10 for a pack in some states. While much of that cost goes to taxes, it's allowed cigarette-makers to lift their own prices, inflating profit margins. As an addictive product with no good substitute, cigarette makers like Altria will continue to command wide profit margins.

And as compensation for the risk of a declining market, investors have the huge potential upside of Altria getting in on the marijuana market if legalization continues to spread. As the country's largest cigarette-maker, Altria is ideally positioned to take advantage of such an opportunity.

For dividend investors, Altria remains a solid bet with a 3.5% dividend yield-- and while not technically a Dividend Aristocratbecause it cut its dividend proportionally after spinning off Philip Morris in 2008, the stock's history is the same as that of an aristocrat. Most recently, its annual payout hikes have been in the high single-digit range, and investors should expect that pattern to continue.

2. Anheuser Busch/InBev

Fellow vice stockAnheuser Busch/InBev(NYSE: BUD) is the world's largest beer-maker, with a market cap of over $200 billion. AB InBev has consolidated its dominant position through a slew of recent acquisition, including most prominently its $103 billion takeover of rival SABMiller last year.

AB/InBev has also acquired a number of smaller craft brewers and leveraged its marketing and distribution muscle to grow sales. At a time when American drinkers are turning away from traditional macrobrews like Bud Light, that ability to acquire smaller brands has helped fuel growth and protected the company from competition.

The beer-maker is a solid dividend payer as well, offering a 3.5% yield. Since the company is based in Belgium, the dividend increases and payouts are affected by exchange rates, but it lifted the payout by 20% in its most recent hike, though it said following the merger with SAB Miller that it expected dividend increases to be more modest as it deleverages the debt from the deal.

With the SAB Miller acquisition behind it, an unmatched global distribution network, and a strong position with craft beers, the company should be a reliable dividend payer for years to come.

3. Pepsico

Soda has been a tough business in recent years as Americans turn away from sugary substances, butPepsico(NYSE: PEP) is much more diversified than investors might think. In addition to Pepsi and other sodas, the company also owns Frito-Lay snacks, Quaker Foods, and dominant non-carbonated beverage brands like Tropicana and Gatorade.

Pepsico's diversification and savvy management have helped it steadily grow profits, outperforming competitors like Coca-Cola in the process. In 2016, core constant currency earnings per share increased 9%, or 12% when the deconsolidation of Venezuela is factored in.

As a dividend payer, Pepsico has long been a solid bet: it's a Dividend Aristocrat, having raised its quarterly payout every year for 44 years in a row. The food and beverage company's recent dividend increases have been in the 7% range, a solid clip for a reliable dividend payer.

The stock now offers a yield of 2.9%, and its status as a Dividend Aristocrat seems secure with a payout ratio of 69%. With 22 billion-dollar brands under its umbrella, Pepsico should continue to be a steady and reliable dividend stock.

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Jeremy Bowman has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Anheuser-Busch InBev NV and PepsiCo. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.