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This FTSE 100 flyer has returned 4,170% since the financial crisis

All hail this astonishing FTSE 100 hero. This all-conquering growth and dividend machine, a company admired by millions, desired by the multitude, that has thrashed the market for the last decade by delivering stonking total returns.

So please be upstanding, ladies and gentlemen, and raise your glasses to… Bunzl (LSE: BNZL). Bunzl?

Great unknown

I first reviewed this specialist distribution group stock four years ago and concluded that it looked a “decent long-term buy and hold“. Well I got that wrong. It’s an indecently successful long-term buy and hold  – indecent because it makes the rest of the FTSE 100 look bad.

New figures from online platform AJ Bell showed just how successful Bunzl has been. Its share price performance since the financial crisis is only the 11th best on the index, with a return of 225.1%. That’s good, given that the FTSE 100 as a whole grew just 12.8%, but isn’t quite enough to merit the praise I have lavished on it.

Unknown hero

The real fun of investing in Bunzl comes from dividend growth. If you had re-invested its dividends for growth every year since 14 April 2007 you would have enjoyed a stunning total return of 4,169.8%. That beats every other company on the index, and compares to just 63.9% across the FTSE 100 as a whole.

Yet at first glance you wouldn’t immediately spot this as a dividend hero, with a current yield of just 1.8%, if nicely covered 2.5 times. Given that the average yield across the index is 3.69%, it seems to be trailing badly. However, that is largely a consequence of its surging share price, which has spiralled from 720p to 2320p over 10 years, despite a relatively sluggish last 12 months, when the shares rose just 11%.

Bunzl of fun

Bunzl continues to deliver, full-year 2016 results show revenues up 14% to £7.429bn, or 4% at constant currency rates. Better still, the dividend was increased from 38p to 42p, a rise of an inflation-destroying 11%. Management is proud to boast of its track record of dividend growth that now stretches back for 24 consecutive years.

Yet many private investors overlook this stock because unlike, say, BP, BT Group, HSBC Holdings, Sky, Tesco, Vodafone and a host of other blue chips, it has zero consumer visibility. Bunzl supplies food packaging, hygienic clothing, paper and plastic disposables to businesses and organisations across in 27 countries, but you will never notice its brand name unless you actively go looking for it.

Going global

Yet it now has a market capitalisation of £7.78bn and continues to grow rapidly on the back of an aggressive global acquisitions strategy, with five buys totalling £260m in the first quarter of this year alone, adding annualised revenue of £330m. We can expect this to continue as the company has substantial funding headroom and can also boast a strong cash flow, balance sheet and acquisition pipeline, which should help it consolidate and grow.

As if that wasn’t enough, it also boasts an average 55.9% return on operating capital, a cash conversion rate of 99%, and a 16.7% return on invested capital. Who needs a showy household name when you can invest in a company like this unsung hero?

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Harvey Jones has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has no position in any of the shares mentioned. Views expressed on the companies mentioned in this article are those of the writer and therefore may differ from the official recommendations we make in our subscription services such as Share Advisor, Hidden Winners and Pro. Here at The Motley Fool we believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.