PepsiCo (NASDAQ:PEP) has built a long track record of paying dividends. The company also buys back a lot of its stock every year, which also creates value for shareholders. In fact, according to the company, PepsiCo has returned more than $60 billion to shareholders through a combination of dividend payments and share buybacks over the past decade.

Clearly, investors who have held onto PepsiCo shares for many years have been handsomely rewarded. The key question for current investors, however, is whether PepsiCo's current dividend is secure enough to invest now. Fortunately, all signs indicate that investors can continue to count on this world-class dividend stock.

Management is committed to returning lots of cash to shareholders
Fortunately for shareholders, PepsiCo management is committed to the dividend. Management understands that a sizable portion of PepsiCo shareholders own the stock largely for its fantastic dividend. When PepsiCo increased its dividend earlier this year, Chief Executive Officer Indra Nooyi had this to say about its capital allocation priorities, "PepsiCo is focused on delivering sustainable long-term growth and strong cash returns to shareholders." As long as the company keeps generating cash flow, PepsiCo will continue to pay and even increase its dividend.

Speaking of free cash flow, there's a lot of it for PepsiCo. Through the first three quarters of the fiscal year, it produced $5.1 billion of free cash flow, thanks to its strong brands such as Frito-Lay, Quaker, and of course its flagship Pepsi products. With this cash flow, PepsiCo rewards investors with a lot of cash, through a combination of dividends and buybacks. In the first nine months of 2014, PepsiCo paid $2.7 billion worth of dividends and bought back $3.2 billion of its own shares. This year, PepsiCo expects to return $8.7 billion to shareholders in the form of both dividends and share repurchases, which would represent a 35% increase from 2013. The fact that PepsiCo can reward shareholders with both share buybacks and dividends is a testament to the strength of its business.

PepsiCo has also earned the reputation of a premier dividend growth stock. The company increased its dividend by 15% in May this year. This represented the 42nd year in a row of consecutive dividend increases.

PepsiCo's dividend is as safe as it gets 
When it comes to the stock market, you can never say with complete certainty that a company's dividend is secure. However, while I can't vouch for PepsiCo's dividend with absolute certainty, this is one dividend that is about as rock-solid as it gets. Over the first three quarters of the year, PepsiCo's dividend payments made up just 53% of its free cash flow. Its free cash flow payout ratio is very modest and provides more than enough room for future dividend increases, so long as free cash flow doesn't suddenly collapse.

Again, while there's never any guarantees in stock investing, that extreme scenario does not seem likely to play out. PepsiCo's diverse portfolio of beverages and snacks includes a lot of popular brands. And, there's plenty of potential for future growth in the emerging markets, where PepsiCo's growth is just getting started. For all these reasons, PepsiCo's dividend is about as secure as you can find.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.