The performance comparison to ETFs is really of no value and no reason to think that those who picked the list are shewder than those who manage ETFs.
Few if any would have bought all of the stocks in the "A" group to have experienced beating the dividend ETF. The point of such a list is to provide a list from which individual stocks can be picked.
No "A" group members made any money as I recall (I am back in the city so I no longer have the magazine). A couple of "D"'s did actually make money and were probably the best performers of all but because of the "dreadful" rating would have been overlooked - by me anyway.
The ETFs selected seem like common and reasonable benchmarks to use. Indeed, the article mentions XDV as the benchmark they use.
You've selected a different benchmark (positive returns). You're certainly welcome to do so. But it doesn't say very much after one of the worst bear markets in memory. It just points to the fact that cash would have been a good place to hide over the last year.
Indeed, a 15.6 percentage point outpeformance vs the market is really something of a triumph considering the circumstances.
I kindly suggest that one shouldn't expect that such a list will manage to pick all, and only all, of the best performers in any given year.
However, I do note that A graded stocks MRU.A and EMP.A fared quite well with 57% and 36% gains respectively. Also, you mentioned FFH and WN which got Bs. (I also note that FFH's recently bought-out subsidiary NB got a B.)
But, in my mind, projects such as the Income 100 should be approached with more modest expectations. Personally, I like them because they provide a great deal of data which can be used in any way I like. If I want to focus on high yield dividend growers then I can.
They also highlight a particular investment style and describe how the stocks are graded. That provides some nice insight into the method used and what might be important to consider when selecting stocks.
I'd estimate that the long-term performance advantage of a dividend growth strategy, similar to the one used in the Income 100, may amount to roughly 1 to 2 percentage points a year on average. But there will be large swings in any given year.
Also, one shouldn't expect any particular style of investing to outperform all of the time. For instance, in some years value will outperform growth. In others, growth will win over value. Over the last year, cash has handily beaten stocks (both value and growth) and has generally triumphed over most other asset classes.