Industryweek 33741 Lancaster Colony Nasdaq 2019 1

Forget the Best, Lancaster Colony Aims to Be Better

Jan. 8, 2019
This Ohio-based food manufacturer's continuous improvement mindset makes its path to success clear: "Even if you do your best, you can do better."

It was not business as usual for Lancaster Colony Corp. on January 4, unless, of course, hanging out on Times Square is a routine Friday afternoon endeavor.

The food company, based in Westerville, Ohio, visited the Nasdaq studio in New York to ring the stock exchange's closing bell. The ceremony commemorated two 50-year milestones that occur in 2019 for this business: the 50th anniversary of Lancaster Colony's initial public offering and its acquisition of T. Marzetti Co. Both occurred in 1969.

While such milestones deserve acknowledgement, the company can claim several other noteworthy achievements as well. For example, Lancaster Colony Corp. has a lengthy streak of increasing cash dividends. Its latest quarterly dividend, which was payable Dec. 28, 2018, marked its 56th consecutive year of increasing regular cash dividends, a feat it says is shared by just 14 other U.S. companies.

Moreover, the payout also was the 222nd consecutive quarterly cash dividend delivered by the company.

Quietly Successful

Lancaster Colony quietly has been building its portfolio in an industry dominated by food behemoths such as Kraft Heinz Co. and Mondelez International. It has evolved from a diversified manufacturer to one that focuses exclusively on specialty food products for the retail and foodservice channels. In addition to T. Marzetti, Lancaster Colony is the company behind such brands as Flatout flatbread wraps, New York Bakery garlic bread and Sister Schubert's frozen dinner rolls.

The company closed out 2018 with several acquisitions: In October it acquired the assets of Bantam Bagels and in November it acquired the assets of Omni Baking Co.

Lancaster Colony also ranks No. 9 on the 2018 IndustryWeek 50 Best U.S. Manufacturers, IW's annual listing of the top-performing U.S. public manufacturing companies based on financial measures in six key areas over a three-year period.

"Our vision is to be the better food company," said Lancaster Colony CEO David A. Ciesinski, during a recent interview with IndustryWeek. Ciesinski joined Lancaster Colony in April 2016 and has served as CEO since July 2017.

He acknowledges the term "better" may be a confusing one for some people.

"A lot of time people say, why don’t you want to be best? And our response is, 'On the day you become the best, what do you do the next day?' Well, you work to become better, right?" Ciesinski says. "The hard part about 'best' is best is oftentimes an abstract, and best can change. But better is very tangible and measurable. You have a starting part and an ending point, and it involves goals, allocating resources and measuring your progress against better."

If it's not already apparent, a continuous improvement mindset drives Lancaster Colony.

"Even if you do your best, you can do better," Ciesinski says.

Definition of 'Winning'

That said, Lancaster Colony has developed a clear set of goals it aims to achieve. Developing that vision, Ciesinski said, "really started with defining what we would look like over time. We sort of stepped back, and we said, let's start with a definition of winning."

"And our definition of winning [is] top quartile financial performance measured in terms of organic sales growth and operating income growth and margin performance and return on assets," Ciesinski said.

In addition to financial performance measures, he cited top quartile performances in product quality, food safety, employee safety, as well as attracting and retaining top quartile people.

"The idea is if we can be in the top quartile over a long period of time, statistically that would put us up in pretty rare company," he said.

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