Food & Beverage

Coca-Cola's diet soda sales, higher prices drive stronger-than-expected earnings 

Key Points
  • Double-digit growth in sales volume for its popular diet soda, Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, help drive the company's earnings in the third quarter.
  • Coca-Cola also reiterates its previous forecast for growing organic revenue of at least 4 percent for the full year.
  • The company raised prices to offset higher import and transportation costs, CEO James Quincey told analysts on a conference call Tuesday morning.
Ramin Talaie | Getty Images

Coca-Cola's diet soda sales and higher prices helped the company beat Wall Street earnings and revenue projections during the third quarter, boosting profit by 30 percent.

Here's what the company reported Tuesday versus what Wall Street was expecting, based on average estimates of analysts polled by Refinitiv:

  • Earnings: 58 cents per share, adjusted, versus an estimate of 55 cents
  • Revenue: $8.25 billion compared with a forecast of $8.17 billion

Net income surged to $1.88 billion, or 44 cents a share, up from $1.45 billion, or 33 cents a share, during the same three months last year, the company said Tuesday. Excluding certain items, including discontinued operations, the company earned 58 cents a share, outpacing analyst expectations.

It generated $8.25 billion in revenue, a decline of about 9 percent from $9.08 billion a year ago, but sill beating analysts' estimates of $8.17 billion.

The company raised prices in North America to offset higher import and transportation costs, CEO James Quincey told analysts on a conference call Tuesday morning. "We had a solid quarter we're on track to close out the year for our guidance," he said.

Coke shares rose by about 2 percent in morning trading.

Coke said double-digit growth in sales volume for its popular diet soda, Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, and strong sales of other sparkling soft drinks helped drive the company's earnings results. Overall, sparkling soft drink sales grew 2 percent — driven by sales of its trademark Coca-Cola and diet versions of Fanta and Sprite.

Its water and sports drink sales rose 5 percent, primarily due to strong sales in China and Mexico.

Those gains were offset by a 3 percent decline in juice, dairy and plant-based beverage sales — mostly hurt in the Middle East and North Africa — as well as a drop in tea and coffee. A rise in sales of Fuze Tea and Gold Peak was hurt by a drop in sales of its local tea brand Turkey.

Overall, its unit case volume, a key indicator of how much product it sold, rose 2 percent from a year ago.

The company reiterated its previous forecast for growing organic revenue of at least 4 percent for the full year. Organic revenue, which grew 6 percent over the previous year, strips out fluctuations in foreign currency rates.

Coca-Cola beats on top and bottom lines
Coca-Cola beats on top and bottom lines

Quincey, who is about 18 months on the job, reshuffled his management team earlier this month, picking a long-time company veteran for his No. 2, announcing a new chief financial officer and chief technical officer.

"We continue to be encouraged by our performance year-to-date as we accelerate our evolution as an even more consumer-centric, total beverage company," Quincey said in a statement. "The recent leadership appointments are intended to help accelerate the transformation of our company."

The company completed refranchising its bottlers in North America, which resulted in a charge of $275 million.

Wells Fargo analysts led by Bonnie Herzog said it was "another strong quarter."

"Overall, we are impressed with [Coke's] ability to deliver a strong and balanced topline, suggesting that its refranchising and portfolio transformation are paying off," she said in a research note to investors Tuesday.

Quincey's taking the soda company beyond its core soft-drink business and eyeing the burgeoning cannabis market for possible future growth.

The Atlanta-based company made one of its largest acquisitions during the quarter — the $5.1 billion purchase of British coffee shop Costa, placing it in direct competition with Starbucks. The company said the deal, which is expected to close in the first half of 2019, will give it "the capabilities to build a global coffee platform."

Pot stocks soared last month after Coke said it it was "closely watching the growth of non-psychoactive CBD as an ingredient in functional wellness beverages around the world. The space is evolving quickly. No decisions have been made at this time."

Quincey said Coke doesn't plan to jump into the infused cannabis market right now, telling analysts the company doesn't "have any plans at this stage to get into the space. So that's kind of where we are."

Quincey will discuss the company's earnings on CNBC's "Squawk on the Street" at 10 a.m. ET on Tuesday.

Correction: This story was revised to correct that the company's revenue, not earnings, fell.