You know, I've always been baffled on election night coverage when the networks award one state or another to a candidate with like 5% of all precincts reporting. Somehow they almost always -- Florida, cough, cough ­-- get it right. So with that in mind, I'd like to report on the Motley Fool poll from August 4, 2003. The question: Which investment will do better over the next decade, food services company SYSCO (NYSE:SYY), router company Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO), or a can of Crisco. The results went as follows:

  Cisco     41%SYSCO     45%Crisco    14%

SYSCO by a nose. And how have these investments done so far? Well, after almost 2% of the 10 years have passed, it looks like our readers knew their stuff. These are the short-term returns:

  Cisco    1.0%SYSCO   10.8% (+ dividends)Crisco  Not so much.

Yeah, there are a few more days left, and things could turn around, but if ABC can call a winner early, then dang it, so can I.

Of course, that would be a mistake. In the last 10 years, the relative performance breaks down like this:

  Cisco:    1322%SYSCO:     357%Crisco:    10 year old Crisco? Ewwwww.

All of this is just in fun. Anyone who purports to know how a company is going to do in a 10-year period is delusional. But there should be no doubt that SYSCO's first test since this poll has been a smashing success, and as such this $21 billion company deserves to gain some more attention from its homonymic compatriot. The nation's largest supplier of food and equipment to restaurants reported earnings this morning, and they were excellent -- up 14.3% or $0.32 per share, with top-line revenues also up substantially at $7.13 billion, an 11% increase.

Unlike many of the technology companies showing boffo earnings growth over fairly benign comparables from last year, SYSCO's performance in 2002 was very strong. So, what could possibly assist the company in beating these results? Inflation helped, with the company counting its costs for food materials rising 5%. But that doesn't help bottom line, just the top, and it's one of those assists that most companies would rather not have, though it is interesting that SYSCO apparently has some substantial pricing power to be able to pass these costs, and then some, on to their customers. Also assisting revenue growth were some acquisitions, adding 1.9% to the top line.

But it was the bottom line where SYSCO shone this quarter. The company lowered its operational costs as a percentage of revenues from just under 15% to 14.4%. Of course, companies can in no way cost cut their way into prosperity, but given that the improvements in efficiency came not so much from things like simple job cuts and more from things like focusing on increasing its sales in existing channels, this is a positive sign.

The one thing that ought to put a bit of fright into SYSCO shareholders is the dramatic increase in receivables, which rose by nearly 14%, faster than sales. Even this doesn't seem to be more than a mild passing concern, for although the company's receivables and inventories increased, its cash conversion cycle dropped dramatically -- a good thing.

The past year has been one marked by a renewed confidence and continued spending by consumers -- who are the end market for almost all of SYSCO's products. David Henkes, of food consultancy Technomic, notes that capital equipment spending among restaurants has remained weak, less than 1% growth in 2002, and not much better in 2003. Should the consumer suddenly not feel as flush, companies such as SYSCO could feel the pinch in a hurry. Still, as results fromOutback Steakhouse (NYSE:OSI) have shown, there is plenty of strength in and growth ahead for casual dining chains.