Coca-Cola's (NYSE:KO) results for the first quarter turned out to be as refreshing as a cold bottle of Dasani (confession: I don't drink the stuff, but we need a relevant metaphor, right?).

Profits for the beverage company went up by 35%, good for a net take of $1.13 billion, which comes out to $0.46 per share. Other highlights for the latest quarter include an increase in free cash flow to $990 million from $404 million in the prior year's quarter, and a stock repurchase valued at $486 million.

The beverage business seems to be booming, as PepsiCo (NYSE:PEP) observed recently (although snacks helped in that case). Coca-Cola's revenues improved by 13% to slightly over $5 billion from the year-ago period based on good growth in the company's international sectors -- including double-digit volume expansion in the all-important China market. On an overall basis, unit case volume improved 9%, but calculating it on an average-daily-sales basis shows a 2% increase (it should be noted that more shipping days were available this quarter).

This has been an interesting week for Coca-Cola. On Monday, the stock reached a 52-week high of $53.50 during intraday trading on speculation that Gillette (NYSE:G) CEO James Kilts might fill Coca-Cola's leadership opening left by the upcoming retirement of Doug Daft.

The company also announced an important new product -- a version of its soda with fewer carbohydrates. It's hoped this will capture the dollars available in the diet-conscious market. New products are key to long-term growth, as performance of the core Coca-Cola brand has been muted in the last few years. In fact, North American results seemed to be primarily driven by growth in the non-cola section of the portfolio, by products such as Powerade and Dasani.

For patient Coke shareholders, this latest report is welcome news. The company's fortunes are improving, and while it may be quite a long time before we see a share price almost equal to $90 -- as was observed in the late '90s -- at least Coke seems to be performing well.

However, the executives in Atlanta need to pump up the North American markets, and we need to see better marketing initiatives for the core brands (as discussed previously). Coke isn't out of the woods yet, but still, it's one heck of a blue chip with a powerful ability to generate cash for dividends.

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Fool contributor Steven Mallas owns shares of Coca-Cola.