PepsiCo (PEP -0.71%) stock has been a relative winner so far in 2022. Investors have been attracted to the snack and beverage giant thanks to its perceived pricing power, stable business, and rising dividend payment. Those factors have Wall Street feeling optimistic about PepsiCo's returns even through a potential recession on the way.

But that bullish thesis is about to meet a big test. PepsiCo is set to announce its fiscal second-quarter results in just a few days. Let's look at a few ways that investors might be positively surprised when the company issues that report on July 12.

Consumer demand

There's been no shortage of worrying signs about consumer demand since the time Pepsi announced its last earnings update in late April, showing strong sales trends as organic revenue soared 14%.

Yet inflation accelerated in the weeks that followed, and economic growth slowed. Many consumer-facing companies have noted that shoppers are becoming more cautious about their spending and tilting demand away from previously popular categories.

This report will show whether Pepsi has been hurt by any of these shifts. Most investors are looking for sales gains to land at just 1%, putting revenue at $19.5 billion. That result would still constitute significant growth compared with the company's pre-pandemic days and would mark gains on top of the company's 21% sales surge a year ago.

Pricing power

A big part of the bullish investing thesis for PepsiCo's stock is its pricing power. As the owner of dozens of leading brands, including Gatorade, Pepsi, Quaker Oats, and Lay's, it stands to potentially outperform peers who might not enjoy such a priority in consumers' spending budgets. Pepsi's efficient supply chain, meanwhile, and its steady stream of product innovations, should allow it to maintain profitability even as shoppers start tightening their wallets.

PEP Operating Margin (TTM) Chart

PEP Operating Margin (TTM) data by YCharts

For the clearest sign of success on this score, watch operating profit margin. That figure held up well in early 2022, and management was confident that it wouldn't collapse anytime soon. But inflation and a potential shift toward cheaper products might complicate Pepsi's ambitious profit plans.

Looking ahead

The main fear heading into the report is that Pepsi will hose down its 2022 outlook, as a few other consumer companies have done in recent weeks. As of today, that forecast calls for organic sales to rise by 8% this year, which is 2 percentage points higher than Pepsi had originally predicted.

Confirmation of that forecast would be great news for investors, but not if it comes with an earnings downgrade. Pepsi might have to put off some of its profitability plans to protect market share, and if it does then investors would see a prediction of earnings growth that lags sales gains in 2022.

The good news is that Pepsi is likely to shower investors with cash even in that scenario. Management currently expects to deliver nearly $8 billion to shareholders this year, mainly through stock buybacks but also through $1.5 billion of dividend payments. That steadily rising dividend income is becoming more valuable at a time when markets are down. It should help protect returns for investors, too.