Over the past few months, I've noticed a shocking indicator of where many investors are focused, and I think you should pay attention as well.

Source: Google Trends.

The number of people typing "inflation" into search engines is now outpacing that of people searching for "stock market."

You have to go back to the middle of 2008 to find a similar crossover. While I wouldn't take this data as a gauge of what's coming, it does indicate what's on the majority of people's minds: a focus on risk rather than reward.  

If you're one of the millions concerned about inflation, I've assembled this 5-minute strategy guide to help protect you. Read on and learn how to crush inflation over the next 12 months -- and more importantly, over the coming decades.

Deadly inflation
Inflation has been the silent killer of many well-researched investment portfolios throughout the years. By slowly dripping away purchasing power without reducing nominal dollar amounts, it's something every investor must keep a diligent eye on.

It's especially destructive for retirees, whose portfolios are often heavily weighted toward bonds, as the fixed payouts become increasingly less valuable with each passing year.

As Fool retirement guru Robert Brokamp correctly stated in 2006: "A retirement plan that doesn't account for inflation is like a house infested with termites. Eventually, the thing will fall apart."

The inflation solution
Thankfully, there's a straightforward method to addressing inflation, and depending on your risk levels and time frame, it can safely make up a large percentage of your overall portfolio. The strategy I'm talking about involves buying solid dividend-paying companies that have all of these characteristics:

  1. Entrenched, well-known brands. Consumers will be more likely to pay higher prices if the company needs to pass increased materials costs along.
  2. Above-average current dividend yield. If we wanted average, we could simply buy an index fund. Nothing but the best for Fools.
  3. Long history (10+ years) of significantly and consistently increasing dividends. This is really where we separate ourselves from inflation. By locating yields that are growing more than three times faster than inflation, we are hoping to simply sprint faster than our dollars can be devalued.

Inflation-killing stocks
So, which companies fit this bill? Below I discuss three great ones. You've heard of all of them, and that's by design per Rule No. 1 above. A 5% or 10% increase in prices would likely not put off consumers of these products.

First up, we have McCormick (NYSE: MKC), the world's largest spice maker.  I've lived and grocery-shopped in six states across three time zones, and no other brand comes to mind that has had entire sections of shelves dedicated in all of them. From Piggly Wiggly to Giant to King Soopers to Giant Eagle, I can't nor do I want to shake the smell of this industry dominator. Its dividend yield is roughly 15% higher than the S&P 500, and its payout has increased in each of the last 25 years. Just over the past 10 years, it's been boosted by a compounded 10.5%. That leaves inflation in its dust and satisfies my third requirement.

Next is V.F. Corp. (NYSE: VFC), the company behind Wrangler, Lee, North Face, Vans, and a host of other apparel brands. Founded in 1899, VF's 25-plus brands run the gamut from get-the-job-done jeans for the everyman to high-performance climbing gear for the adventurer.  VF shares many of the same dividend qualities of McCormick: 10%+ dividend compound annual growth rate, or CAGR, over the past 10 years and a yield of 2.6% versus the S&P's 1.9%.

Gap (NYSE: GPS) is a great comparable company to VF, with its Gap, Banana Republic, and Old Navy brands and a 16%+ dividend CAGR during the previous decade. However, I'm personally more excited about VF's prospects over the next few years, which makes it more attractive for my investing dollars.

Lastly, there's PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP), which aside from its namesake brand and an almost 3% yield, brings to the table a host of consumer brands such as Gatorade, Fritos, Quaker Oaks, and Tropicana. The company has grown its dividend at a compounded 13% over the past 10 years. Those facts make Pepsi a surefire candidate for this inflation-beating dividend strategy. I also like Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO), which also has a great history of growing its dividend, but I prefer Pepsi because of its diversity of brands and operating segments.

Retirement-saving theme
You've likely noticed a common thread throughout all of these companies. Aside from the three characteristics I identify above, all of these companies are well-known consumer-focused brands. That's my personal preference during a high-inflation environment -- companies that have the brand equity to pass increased prices along to their customers.

This may differ from your investing philosophy. You may choose to focus on a more diverse group of companies for your dividend-based inflation protection. That's perfectly OK, but make sure that the companies you choose have shown to, and can continue to, grow their yields at rates that greatly outpace inflation.

If you want to look outside the consumer retail for high-yield fast-growing dividend stocks, make sure you check out a widely popular free report from Motley Fool's expert analysts called "13 High-Yielding Stocks to Buy Today," including one named by a senior analyst as "the dividend play of a lifetime." Hundreds of thousands have requested access to this report and today I invite you to download it at no cost to you. To get instant access to the names of these 13 high-yielders, simply click here -- it's free.

Jeremy Phillips owns no shares of the companies mentioned above. The Motley Fool owns shares of PepsiCo and Coca-Cola. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of PepsiCo, McCormick, and Coca-Cola, as well as creating a diagonal call position in PepsiCo. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.