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Editors' Note: This article covers stocks trading at less than $1 per share and/or has less than a $100 million market cap. Please be aware of the risks associated with these stocks.

With the major benchmarks trading within striking distance of their all-time highs and consumer confidence levels showing consistent progress, it is important to focus on select stock sectors that are positioned to run higher -- even if we start to see downside corrections in the broader markets. Overall optimism in corporate earnings has not exactly been divided evenly through all industry segments, but one area that should be watched can be found in food stocks, as sales numbers have shown some strong surprises relative to initial projections. The best example of this is Campbell Soup Company (NYSE:CPB), which reported particularly strong earnings results in second-quarter fiscal 2014.

Campbell Soup Company manufactures convenience food products, and controls a large number of important brands through several strongly performing segments. Some of the best examples here include Global Baking and Snacking, U.S. Simple Meals, and International Simple Meals and Beverages. The company's latest earnings report showed year-over-year gains of 19% (76 cents per share) in adjusted earnings from continuing operations. But even more impressive was the net earnings figure, which rose to $1.03 per share -- a massive year-over-year increase of 72%. Quarterly revenues were higher by 5.5% at $2.28 billion, driven largely by improving soup sales in the U.S. and rising demand in emerging markets. Sales at the company's Simple Meals division showed gains of 7%, coming in at $894 million. U.S. soup sales showed improvements of 5% and quarterly net sales were higher by 6% to $2,281 million. 2014 earnings projections from Campbell's now show an expectation of $2.53 to $2.58 per share.

Key Positives

This better performance and the improving sector outlook create some solid opportunities for investors to gain long-term exposure. There are some important positives that will likely drive the stock going forward and protect the company against its much less significant negatives. In addition to this, the stock offers solid dividend yield that should be positively viewed, given the low-interest rate environment that marks the broader economy. CBP offers a dividend yield of 3%, and the stock is currently showing a P/E ratio of 20.3.

Key positives for CPB can be found in multiple segments, as we continue to see stable expansion in profit margins, attractive valuations, and the company's strong return on equity in recent quarters. The argument can be made that Campbell's suffers from net income growth that trails behind some of its counterparts, but this is one area of weakness that should have less of an impact on share performance when compared to the positives. This latest earnings report provides some excellent sources of confirmation for this position and suggests that the sector as a whole is likely to see strong gains for the rest of this year.

That is not to say that growth concerns are not valid. But in cases where investors lack stocks with significant growth potential, it makes sense to include small-cap alternatives that are positioned to capitalize on the building strength that can be found in the sector as a whole. One growth stock that exhibits many of the same strengths and is positioned to benefit from sector trends is SoupMan (OTCQB:SOUP), which shows an improving outlook after solidifying deals with Robert Azinian and CCA Foods (NYSEMKT:CAW) to grow its presence in casino restaurants in Canada and the U.S. This comes in addition to improved sales numbers at its Wegman's and Whole Foods (NASDAQ:WFM) outlets. The company's diversified product line offers a solid alternative for investors looking to capitalize on the broader trends in the sector.

So, while the potential for growth might be a concern for some types of portfolio positioning strategies, recent performance numbers from some of the industry's largest names suggest that the tide is rising for the sector as a whole, and there is a strong variety of potential stock candidates that can be used to express this view -- and protect against any possible downside while the major benchmarks continue to trade at elevated levels.

Source: Positive Sector Outlook Supports Campbell Soup Company