H.J. Heinz's (NYSE:HNZ) latest quarterly results were very easy to digest, offering a pleasing peek into the future.

Heinz's ongoing efforts to improve operations were evident in its first-quarter press release. A hefty 25% increase in marketing expenditures boosted sales 9%, including robust organic growth of 5.3%. Earnings of $0.63 per share fell right in line with analyst expectations, newly increased after management's updated guidance last week.

The company's strong performance came despite a sharp 4.7% jump in raw-material prices and a higher tax rate of 26.6%. To help hedge those rising costs, Heinz increased its product prices an average of 2.8%. The company also benefited from some favorable foreign exchange rates.

The company has been hard at work innovating new products to help boost its bottom line going forward. Its beans, soups, and Smart Ones meals are healthy and convenient products, a combination most busy families appreciate (mine included). Management now expects earnings per share to approach the top end of its earlier $2.54-$2.60 guidance.

Despite the increase in marketing, and a 14% rise in R&D, shareholders should be happy to see some money headed back their way. The company had 3% fewer shares than a year ago, and Heinz's dividend was 8.5% higher, at $0.38 a share.

Heinz isn't the only food-processing company facing rising costs. Competitor Hormel Foods (NYSE:HRL) recently stated that it's in search of new, higher-margin products to help offset rising commodity costs. I can bet that Campbell Soup (NYSE:CPB) will tell the same story when it reports results in a month or so. So far, though, Heinz has proven that continually innovating to provide popular products can help it overcome rising input prices.

With a little push from activist shareholder Nelson Peltz, and new easy-to-prepare products that are healthier than many other prepackaged foods, Heinz is are looking pretty appealing these days. By adding shareholder value from buying back stock, and increasing the dividend, this company looks like it can serve up both a tasty meal for consumers and an appetizing return to shareholders.

A taste-test of further Foolishness:

  • In its third quarter, Heinz was feeling saucy.
  • Last quarter, the company proved it could catch up to competitors.
  • Before it releases quarterly results, get the skinny on competitor Campbell.

See why Heinz is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation, and check out advisor James Early's latest recommendations, with a free 30-day trial.

Fool contributor Larry Rothman is happy to receive feedback, and promises to read it when not being wrestled by his three children. He doesn't have any positions in the companies mentioned. The Fool's disclosure policy extracts stubborn Heinz ketchup by tapping on the number 57.