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You have likely heard about large food and beverage manufacturers Sara Lee (SLE), Kraft (KFT), and Coca Cola (NYSE:KO). But I doubt you have heard of the company that is responsible for the design and manufacturing of the packaging for these products. This unknown company is a great investment opportunity.

The food and beverage industry is a multi-trillion dollar industry in the United States. This is a great industry for vendors because food and beverages are a necessity that every person must have. Products like meat, seafood, soups, frozen meals, potato chips, soft drinks, coffee, and juices are staples of the American diet.

Investors can make money by buying a piece of this growing industry. Analysts often recommend companies like Sara Lee, PepsiCo (NYSE:PEP), and Kraft as a way of getting exposure to the food and beverage industry through manufacturing. There is a better way to invest in this industry by looking at the packagers.

Packaging companies design and manufacture the containers and bottles for consumer goods. I have discovered a packaging company that is responsible for manufacturing approximately 20% of the beverage cans used globally. This packaging company is the largest producer of aerosol and food cans in the world. This packaging company is well positioned to profit off of rising growth trends in foreign markets

My packaging industry pick is Crown Holdings Inc. (NYSE: CCK).

Crown Holdings is one of the largest packaging companies in the world. The company designs packages for food products, drinks, beauty supplies, and household products. Crown Holdings is a Fortune 500 company with 139 plants in 41 different countries and has been in business since 1892.

Crown Holdings booked $8.3 billion in sales last year. Half of Crown’s revenue comes from the company’s sales of beverage cans alone. Crown is projected to earn $8.2 billion for the current year and $8.52 billion dollars in 2011. This would represent an increase in sales of 4% with the 5 year projected growth rate at 9.4%.

Crown will likely exceed these projections as the company has a history of guiding down to lower Wall Street's expectations. Crown’s primary competitor is Ball Corporation (NYSE: BLL). Ball Corporation has over 90 locations worldwide and generated $7.4 billion dollars in sales last year. Ball recently exited the plastics packaging business due to poor sales.

Crown Holdings has done an excellent job of generating cash with over $685 million in free cash flow last year. Operating margins are high at over 10%. Management has done a solid job of becoming leaner by decreasing costs. Crown has lowered its interest expense from $61 million to $47 million dollars by paying off outstanding debt and lowering its borrowing costs. The net effect has been an increase in profitability over the last two years with Crown earning over $335 million in net income last year.

Crown is already a dominant player in foreign countries, deriving nearly three quarters of its sales from overseas markets. This has not stopped Crown from building plants and investing heavily in emerging markets. Investments in Asia and South America are already paying off with the packing company seeing beverage can sales increase 4.5%. Plants are already being developed in Brazil and Thailand to give Crown a foothold in these countries.

Crown may be one of the best companies people have never heard about. The stock is currently selling near its 52 week high. Crown is projected to earn $2.17 for 2010 and $2.47 in 2011. The stock currently has a price to earnings ratio just under 12 based on forward earnings. The industry average P/E for packaging companies is 12.5. Value investors are getting a chance to buy a great company that is trading at a price to sales ratio of just .6.

Crown Holdings Inc. will continue to thrive in anonymity as consumer demand for food and beverage products keeps growing. Investors should wait for a pullback to buy shares at $25 or lower.

Disclosure: No position

Source: Crown Holdings: Thriving in Anonymity as Food and Beverage Demand Increases