Investors in Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO) should be feeling bubbly right now. The beverage giant is growing sales and boosting profits despite new COVID-19 outbreaks that affected some of its biggest markets in the third quarter. Management was happy enough with recent performance that it has hiked the company's 2021 outlook.
Let's take a look at that brighter forecast -- plus a few other key numbers from Coke's latest earnings announcement.
1. Higher concentrate sales: 8%
Coke's growth metrics were strong across the board. Volume was up 6%, concentrate sales were higher by 8%, and there was another lift from the combination of higher prices and a tilt in demand toward premium beverage products.
Globally, organic sales were up 14%. That performance beat Wall Street expectations and kept Coca-Cola well ahead of peers like PepsiCo (NASDAQ:PEP), which recently announced an 8% boost in its beverage business.
The best news, according to management, was that Coke continues to win market share as consumer mobility shifts back toward more-normal patterns. "Our strong system alignment and networked organization are helping us unlock enormous potential in our brands and across our markets," CEO James Quincey said in a press release.
2. Cash flow: $8.5 billion
Coke is showing off its financial strength this year too. Free cash flow is up to over $8 billion through the first three quarters of 2021 compared to $3 billion in the same period of 2020 -- and $6.6 billion during the more normal times of 2019.
Profitability is holding near record highs, which is another way that Coke differs from its more diversified peer, Pepsi. The operating margin is at 30% of sales, or about double Pepsi's level. Coke's greater attention to energy drinks -- in January, it rolled out Coca-Cola with Coffee -- is helping it experience a stronger rebound than it might have had with just its traditional products. The new drink comes in three flavors: dark blend, vanilla and caramel. "Our strategic transformation is enabling us to...emerge stronger from the pandemic," Quincey said.
3. New outlook: 13% to 14% growth
Coke now sees organic sales rising between 13% and 14%, up from the prior target of 12% to 14%. Pepsi, by contrast, is looking for about an 8% increase in 2021.
Coca-Cola also expects to generate nearly $11 billion of free cash flow this year and that earnings will rise by as much as 17% compared to 2020. Those bullish forecasts account for rising costs and supply chain issues, which don't appear to be threatening Coke's outlook. The company might have seen an annual earnings spike of 20% if those issues weren't pressuring profits.
Still, Coke has plenty of room to raise prices and boost profit margins because of soaring demand for sparkling drinks, waters, sports drinks, and just about every other type of on-the-go beverage. That's great news for shareholders, especially since the stock has underperformed so far in 2021.
Shares looks even better when you consider that Coke's business is stronger than it has ever been. Eventually, that strength will be reflected in a rising stock price.