Welcome to a New World Order. Millennials, those people born between 1980 and 2000 are growing up, and their collective views will soon define society's stance toward a number of previously entrenched institutions.
Millennials increasingly aren't affiliated with any particular religion, but pray more often than previous generations; they are more accepting of gay marriage; and don't be surprised if they vote in droves to legalize marijuana.
But those aren't the only changes occurring. Many shifts in consumption and communication are taking place as well, and they will have significant effects on our economy. Recently, Goldman Sachs issued a fascinating look at millennials' collective preferences. The findings yield three distinct ways that investors can benefit from the changing of the generational guard.
Healthy living is more than just "not being sick"
Today's young adults have seen their parents deal with a multitude of maladies. Though rates of heart disease and cancer are down, many physical problems develop from our sedentary lifestyle and poor dietary choices.
Take a look at how millennials, along with baby boomers and Generation Xers, define "healthy."
As you can see, millennials view health not so much as a solely lack of sickness but as a life filled with vitality. As far as I can tell, investors can play this trend in two wys.
The first is to invest in companies that have an inherent dedication to healthy eating. While there are far more players in this field than there were just 10 years ago, Whole Foods (NASDAQ:WFM) remains the head-and-shoulders leader.
The company only has about 400 stores now, but believes it can triple that number in the U.S. It is leading the wave of educating consumers about where their food comes from, and how it was sourced. In the end, this is the type of leadership millennials are seeking.
The other way to play this "healthy living" movement is through athletic companies. Specifically, the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis has found that year-over-year increases in spending on athletic apparel have far outpaced total spending on apparel nationwide since the Great Recession.
I see no company better positioned to benefit from this than Under Armour (NYSE:UAA). Not only has the company's incredible revenue growth solidified its burgeoning position in athletic wear -- sales have grown by 28% annually over the past three years -- but it is leading the way toward wearable fitness technology as well.
Lots more shopping will happen online
Without doing any research, if someone were to ask me what percent of goods are bought online, I would probably say about one-third -- based largely on the orders my household makes every month.
But the reality is far smaller. According to the Census Bureau, e-commerce accounted for just 6.7% of all U.S. retail purchases in the fourth quarter of 2014. That means there's tons of room for growth. While its data comes from the United Kingdom, the Goldman Sachs' report makes clear millennials like e-commerce.
Although countless retailers have an e-commerce presence, I would argue Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) has the dominant position. The company has built a network of uber-expensive fulfillment centers that no competitor can afford to match. That means Amazon will be the most convenient platform for online shoppers -- with lickety-split delivery via the U.S. Postal Service, drone, or even rapid 3D printing.
Social media: Connecting the world
Finally, and unsurprisingly, millennials increasingly rely on social media to connect with the world -- especially with those who aren't in close physical proximity. This trend shows absolutely no sign of slowing.
Here's what Goldman Sachs found when it comes to millennials' tendency to communicate about brands, services, and products via social media.
Some might argue that teens and young adults' preferences for social media are rapidly changing, but I contend that Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) remains the de-facto leader in this field, and I think it will hold that position for decades to come.
Not only does the company have the second-most popular website nationally and globally (according to alexa.com), but it has seeds in place to build an umatched social media network. With CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the helm, I believe the integration and monetization of Instagram, WhatsApp, and Oculus Rift will enable the company to continue dominating social media until today's millennials are in their 40s and 50s.
Of course, there's no guarantee that all of these companies will be winners in the coming shifts in tastes. But at the very least, investors should consider these changes when evaluating their own portfolio over the long run.