Investing isn't easy. Even Warren Buffett counsels that most investors should invest in a low-cost index like the S&P 500. That way, "you'll be buying into a wonderful industry, which in effect is all of American industry," he says.

But there are, of course, companies whose long-term fortunes differ substantially from the index. In this series, we look at how individual stocks have performed against the broad S&P 500.

Step on up, Lancaster Colony (Nasdaq: LANC).                             

Lancaster Colony shares have easily outperformed the S&P 500 over the last quarter-century, with most of the outperformance occurring in the last decade:

Lancsp

Source: S&P Capital IQ.

Since 1987, shares have returned an average of 14.5% a year, compared with 9.7% a year for the S&P (both include dividends). That difference adds up fast. One thousand dollars invested in the S&P in 1987 would be worth $19,200 today. In Lancaster Colony, it'd be worth $76,700.                                                                                   

Dividends accounted for a lot of those gains. Compounded since 1987, dividends have made up about half of Lancaster Colony's total returns. For the S&P, dividends account for 39% of total returns.

Now have a look at how Lancaster Colony earnings compare with S&P 500 earnings:

Lancearnings

Source: S&P Capital IQ.

Some underperformance, actually, with lots of volatility. Since 1995, Lancaster Colony earnings per share have increased by 4.7% per year, compared with 6% a year for the broader index.

What's that meant for valuations? Lancaster Colony has traded for an average of 16 times earnings since 1987 -- below the 24 times earnings of the broader S&P 500.

Through it all, shares have been strong performers over the last quarter-century.  

Of course, the important question is whether that will continue. That's where you come in. Our CAPS community currently ranks Lancaster Colony with a five-star rating (out of five). Care to disagree? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below, or add Lancaster Colony to My Watchlist.