It is a sad fact: People grow apart. It isn't anyone's fault. Sometimes interests just change. Such is the story of Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG) and the U.S. consumer.

After building the world's largest consumer goods empire by supplying U.S. consumers with a dizzying array of cleaning products, Procter & Gamble is moving on. It just isn't working anymore. Not that we should be all that surprised. High unemployment and few prospects for a quick recovery have humbled once-fearless American shoppers.

Trading down
New shopping habits have forced Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT) to bolster its discount reputation by cutting prices on 10,000 items and has sparked a price war in the everyday consumer goods market. People are hunting for bargains in the mundane parts of their life, including toothpaste, detergent, and diapers.

In its latest earnings release, Procter & Gamble boasted 8% growth in its sales volume, the strongest volume growth in more than five years, but revenue was up only 5%, the result of smaller price tags. The same story is playing out at competitors such as Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE: CL) and Unilever (NYSE: UL), which both reported revenue growth below volume growth.

Although Unilever expressed hope for an end to the pricing pressure before the end of the year, this may prove overly optimistic. Procter & Gamble, which has generally ignored emerging markets to date, is launching new offensives in markets like Brazil and China.

Better late than never ... maybe
Although the growing consumer markets in the world's less- developed markets appear attractive, Procter & Gamble is facing quite an uphill battle. Unilever is the consumer goods pioneer, first establishing a presence in the emerging markets of Africa in 1904, and today gets about half of its sales from emerging markets. Similarly, Colgate dominates Latin American markets, earnings 28% of its sales from the region.

These entrenched operators aren't going to give up market share without a fight, which means higher marketing spending for P&G and expanding the price war to foreign shores. The high costs associated with trying to storm these new markets means there is little room for error, and increased risk for investors.

Go with the leaders
As investors, we need to find companies that can tap the immense opportunity provided by rising consumers in the world's less-developed markets. There are many U.S.-based companies, like Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO) and Nike (NYSE: NKE), that have found the solution, and each has made great strides into China as well as other high-growth regions. But often local operators have an advantage over their foreign competitors, meaning they can earn higher returns for investors.

The Motley Fool Global Gains team is constantly on the search for these types of companies. If you'd like to see what it has found, take a free 30-day trial.