By Katherine Hobson
Wall Street Journal

Food and beverage companies with a greater percentage of sales from so-called "better-for-you" products do better, financially, than their peers with less healthful fare, a new report finds.

The report is from the Hudson Institute and was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It looked at financial figures from 15 large food and drink companies between 2007 and 2011.

You also may be asking what "better-for-you" foods are, anyway. They include "no-, low- and reduced-calorie items, such as flavored waters or diet sodas, as well as products that generally are perceived to be healthier, such as yogurts and whole-grain cereals," according to the Hudson Institute.

Examples include Oscar Mayer Lean Turkey and Wheat Thins from Kraft Foods, PepsiCo's Pepsi Max and Quaker Oatmeal and Unilever's Breyer's Light ice cream and Lipton Dry Soups.

The report concludes that companies with a higher percentage of sales from the BFY products had a 50% growth in operating profit (compared to 20% at companies with a below-average percentage of sales of those items), outperformed the S&P 500 by an average of 60 points (vs. 40 points) and generated higher shareholder returns than the other companies.

It finds that these foods "drove a disproportionate share of sales growth in the past five years," making up 40% of sales but generating more than 70% of the growth. To be sure, these products tend to be newer, which means they're likely to sell better, Michele Simon, the author of a book about the food industry, tells

The report didn't delve into whether those products were actually healthful and wasn't intended to set nutritional standards, lead author Hank Cardello -- senior fellow and director of the Obesity Solutions Initiative at the Hudson Institute, and a former food exec -- tells the Health Blog.

And plenty of folks argue that the best way to build a healthful diet is to focus on whole foods whenever possible. The latest iteration of the U.S. dietary guidelines recommends a "healthy eating pattern" that "emphasizes nutrient-dense foods and beverages -- vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat milk or milk products, seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, beans and peas, and nuts and seeds."

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