A growing number of US consumers are not only snacking throughout the day on foods with perceived health benefits, they are making those snacks a feature of their main meal according to a recent study from global information company the NPD Group.

The food and beverage market research report, The Future of Eating: Who’s Eating What in 2018, suggests snack foods eaten at meals will grow approximately 5 percent during the next five years.

According to the report, the strongest growth of snack foods eaten at meals will be in the better-for-you categories consumers see as more healthful and convenient such as yogurt, bars and fresh fruit. Ready-to-eat sweetened snack foods and desserts are less likely to be eaten with a main meal and are projected to be flat over the next five years.

“The growth in better-for-you snack foods in between and at meals is a good example of how consumers are redefining the foods they eat, and how the traditional lines between snack foods and main meal foods are blurring,” says Darren Seifer, NPD Group food and beverage industry analyst. “Consumers clearly associate certain times of day with main meals and between meal occasions, but what they are eating at those occasions is changing.” 

This growth is being driven primarily by Millennials (ages 24-37), Generation X (ages 38-48) and Generation Z (ages 0-23). NPD says these generations’ positive attitudes about snacking include a desire for convenience and more healthful options.

“Food marketers and retailers can capitalize on the growing interest in better-for-you snack foods, but it may require a paradigm shift,” says Seifer. “It’s key to focus on providing convenience and addressing the needs these foods meet rather than positioning foods in the predefined buckets of snacks or main meal foods.”

The full report can be accessed here.