Coca-Cola (KO 0.95%) is still growing sales at a bubbly clip. The beverage giant recently announced first-quarter earnings results that showed strong growth through late March, even as consumers slowed their spending. There were some other hints of weakness in the report, including slowing sales volumes and a reduced profit margin. But most of the news was good for shareholders.

Let's take a closer look at whether these results mean Coca-Cola stock is still an attractive buy for 2023.

Coca-Cola saw good momentum in Q1

Coke's organic sales rose 12% to kick off fiscal 2023, marking just a modest slowdown compared to the prior quarter's 15% spike. Sales volumes were positive after falling in late 2022, even as Coke charged much higher average prices across its portfolio of still and sparking beverages. These results showed off the industry leader's pricing power. "We are encouraged by our first quarter ... results," CEO James Quincey said in a press release.

Standout brands included the SmartWater franchise, which grew volumes by 8%. And Coke enjoyed strong sales growth in its European market along with 10% higher volumes in the China geography. The U.S. market was relatively weak, on the other hand, with flat volumes and an 11% increase in average prices.

Cash and profits for Coke were mixed

The news was more mixed around Coke's finances. Operating profit margin fell to 30.7% of sales from 32.5% of sales a year ago. But this slump was entirely driven by currency exchange swings, which are temporary. Profitability ticked slightly higher on a non-GAAP (adjusted) basis after accounting for these moves. Coke's per-share earnings rose 5% but would have risen by 12% on a constant-currency basis.

KO Operating Margin (TTM) Chart.

KO Operating Margin (TTM) data by YCharts.

Cash flow trends worsened thanks to some growth initiative projects and payments related to some bottler acquisitions. But management still expects to generate nearly $10 billion of free cash flow this year, on par with 2022.

Outlook and valuation remain on track for the beverage giant

Coke executives affirmed all of the key pillars of their 2023 outlook. Organic sales are still projected to rise by between 7% and 8% after jumping 16% last year. Net profitability should expand slightly on a non-GAAP basis but will shrink a bit due to currency exchange rate moves. "We are confident in our ability to deliver on our 2023 objectives," Quincey said.

Investors have some good reasons to like the stock today, given those stable growth and profit trends. Shares are valued at 6.5 times annual sales, which is a large premium compared to PepsiCo's ratio of 3 times sales.

But Coke's operating margin is more than double Pepsi's 13% rate and is holding steady. The company's dividend, its broad geographic base, and its leadership in key on-the-go beverage niches make it a great choice for investors worried about a recession developing in the U.S. market over the next few quarters.

Sure, fiscal 2023 is shaping up to be a slower year for growth. But Coke is on track to add to last year's soaring sales volumes even as it improves on its industry-leading profitability. These factors should support market-beating returns for patient investors who hold this consumer staples giant over the long term.