Part of the challenge of being an investor is holding on to high quality companies for the long term. If they perform well, there is always a temptation to sell them. If they don’t perform well, there is a temptation to do just the same – even if the company in question is doing all of the right things, but is being hurt by short term external factors.

The skill, then, is in picking the best stocks and giving them the time to come good.

A very bright future

One company which appears to fall into this category is Unilever (LSE: ULVR). The consumer goods company has a very bright long term future owing mainly to its exposure to the emerging world. In fact, Unilever generates the majority of its sales from developing economies and with wages set to rise rapidly over the coming years, demand for Unilever’s products is likely to increase considerably.

Certainly, Unilever’s share price has performed well in recent years and its shareholders may be tempted to sell at the present time. However, this could be the worst time to do just that since all of the investment which Unilever has made in marketing its products in the emerging world looks set to bear fruit over the next 5+ years. As such, Unilever appears to be a stock to buy and hold forever.

Stunning track record

Also offering excellent long term growth potential is Zytronic (LSE: ZYT). Its track record is stunning, with the touchscreen glass manufacturer recording an annualised growth rate in earnings of almost 11% during the last five years. And with demand for touchscreen products likely to rise over the long run, as their use becomes more widespread across a number of different industries and applications, Zytronic’s outlook is highly positive.

In fact, over the next two financial years Zytronic is expected to continue to record positive earnings growth numbers. And with its shares yielding around 4.2%, they seem to offer excellent income prospects. That’s especially the case since Zytronic currently pays out just 50% of profit as a dividend, which indicates that shareholder payouts could move sharply higher over the medium to long term.

Rising demand

Meanwhile, Iomart (LSE: IOM) also seems to be another stock to buy and hold forever. That’s at least partly because the cloud computing space is likely to be a major growth area in the coming years as more businesses and individuals switch from physical to cloud storage.

As Iomart’s most recent final results showed, it is experiencing rising demand for its services, with sales increasing by 16% and adjusted pretax profit 14% higher than in the previous year. And with the scope for further partnerships within the Hybrid Cloud space, as well as additional M&A opportunities, Iomart seems to be a top-notch smaller company for the long term.

As with Zytronic, Iomart has an excellent track record of profit growth, with its bottom line rising by over 100% in the last four years. And with double-digit growth expected this year, now could be an excellent time to buy the company for the long term.

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Peter Stephens owns shares of Unilever and Zytronic. The Motley Fool UK owns shares of and has recommended Unilever. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.