The Grain-Based Foods Share Index, calculated by Milling & Baking News based on share prices of 22 industry companies, climbed 9% in 2010, a solid performance, although lagging the Dow Jones industrial average rise of 11% and the S.&P. 500 advance of 13%.

While many grain-based foods companies have struggled in their efforts to generate earnings growth in recent years, the sector has benefited from a quality that attracts growing appreciation among investors — dividend yield. All but five companies within the Grain-Based Foods Share Index paid cash dividends in 2010, with an average year-end yield of 2.4%.

While dividends have been important to the investment community forever, the number of investors paying attention has increased. This heightened interest reflects both the poor yield of the bond market and the recognition that a large portion of stock market returns in recent decades has been accounted for by dividends as opposed to share price appreciation.

Whether the love affair with dividends will continue into 2011 is an open question, particularly amid renewed fears of rising interest rates. Still, the dividend payout across the consumer staples sector, including grain-based foods, offers significant stability and even some security for the industry’s share prices into the new year and beyond.