Coca-Cola CEO: We're getting our momentum back

Matthew J. Belvedere With Wires
KO's CEO: We are getting our momentum back
KO's CEO: We are getting our momentum back

Coca-Cola reported better-than-expected quarterly revenue, as strong sales in China more than offset a drop in Europe and flat volumes in North America.

"We're beginning to get our momentum back here the beginning of 2014," Coca-Cola Chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent said on CNBC Tuesday, right after the company reported profits in-line with expectations.

Excluding items, first quarter earnings come in at 44 cents a share. While revenue beat estimates, it dropped 4 percent to $10.58 billion.

"We're a business that generates 80 percent of its income outside the United States," Kent explained. "In the last three years ... we have had to deal with almost $2 billion in currency headwinds cumulative."

After the earnings announcement, the company's shares rose more than 2 percent in premarket trading. Click here to get the latest quotes for Coke.

KO reports Q1 results
KO reports Q1 results

Coke said global case volume sales 2 percent in the quarter. Deutsche Bank Securities beverage analyst Bill Schmitz said, "The case volume of product they sold ... it came in at 2 [percent]. So I think that's a little bit of a relief for people."

"Latin American is a little bit of a trouble spot right now. There's a huge soda tax in Mexico. So they're offsetting with pricing and that's impacting volumes," Schmitz said.

Kent responded on Latin America: "We saw Brazil coming back with growth, and we saw south Latin [American] having good growth for us."

The beverage giant has been swimming against a tide of falling soda sales around the world, particularly in the U.S., as health concerns prompt consumers to shift away from carbonated, sugary drinks.

KO's CEO: Aspartame is safe
KO's CEO: Aspartame is safe

Artificial sweeteners, like aspartame, in diet drinks are also coming under assault. "Aspartame is safe. It's the most widely-researched ingredient in the world," Kent said. "It's used in more than 6,000 products in the world."

There's a new, zero-calorie natural sweetener called Stevia that's starting to be used in soft drinks. Kent said, "We have used it now in a new beverage called 'Coca-Cola Life' that's been introduced in Argentina and Chile. And it's doing much better than our expectations. We're cautiously optimistic about [Stevia]."

Meanwhile, value investor David Winters has criticized the way Coke has managed its equity plan this year. The company has called his statements "misinformed" and said they "do not reflect the facts."

"I wish he called me before he put out those statements," Kent told CNBC Tuesday. "We've created substantial amounts of shareholder wealth and value. And our program is completely married to the interests of shareholders."

He added: "When shareholders are given wealth creation, management also benefits from that. And if that's not the case, management doesn't benefit."

Wintergreen sent a statement to CNBC after Kent's comments:

"By Coca-Cola's own numbers, the equity plan could dilute shareholders by more than 14%. That simply is unacceptable given Coke's growth and the capacity still available under its current equity plan. Coke's buyback doesn't fix the problem; it makes it worse. The buyback was put in place to benefit all shareholders, not five percent of management."

By CNBC's Matthew J. Belvedere. Reuters contributed to this report.