How The J.M. Smucker Company Beat Apple

This post is part of the HBR Insight centre Growing the Top Line.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a record 46.2 million Americans are now living below the poverty line, as more and more people fall out of the middle class. For many companies, a shrinking middle class means a shrinking top line, as their traditional consumer base migrates to the lower end of the market.

But not for the J.M. Smucker Company.

The 114-year-old outfit, based in Orville, Ohio, now sits at #2 on this year’s Barron’s 500, which ranks publicly traded companies purely according to growth metrics — not revenue itself but changes in sales, profits, and return on investment. This accomplishment is even more impressive when you consider that Apple is #4 on the list.

Smucker’s? That’s right — the outfit best known for selling peanut butter and those iconic jars of jam that haven’t changed much since the company was founded in 1897. How did such an old-school consumer brand company make it near the top of a list of hot growth firms?

The numbers are there. Smucker’s impressive annual results cap a decade in which the 4,500-employee firm achieved compound annual revenue growth of 23% and per-share earnings growth of 14%. Shareholder returns matched profits exactly, at a compound 14%. For 2011, it all added up to $4.8 billion in sales. That’s a lot of PB&J.

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