Chicago, IL—Generation Z (includes ages 0–23) and Millennials (ages 24–37) are the primary groups behind a recent rise in consumption of fresh foods, according to new market research from NPD Group. Fresh food, including fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, fish and eggs, has become more popular over the last 10 years, driven by interest from young consumers.

Over 100 billion meals eaten by U.S. consumers featured fresh food in 2013, a growth of 20% since 2003. Through 2018, the three main meals of the day will come to incorporate even more fresh food, says NPD’s The Future of Eating: Who’s Eating What in 2018?

The meal in which the role of fresh foods is projected to grow the most is breakfast. Fresh food consumption at breakfast is expected to increase by 9% by 2018, while fresh food at lunch and dinner will grow by 7% and 5%, respectively. According to the report’s authors, the additional preparation time that most fresh foods require isn’t preventing older Gen Z and Millennial consumers from getting more involved in what they eat. The top fresh foods for young consumers in 2013 included fresh chicken, eggs/omelets, potatoes, store fresh bananas, store fresh apples, bacon, carrots and hot dogs.

A parallel trend that is also being driven by young people is growth in ready-to-eat, better-for-you snacking, especially fruit. Another research finding is that Gen Z and Millennials are interested in eating more organic foods. Though tough economic times suppressed growth for organics, trends indicate that interest in organic remains strong among youth, according to NPD. But interest in organic drops off steeply with older consumers, the result of economic pressures combined with the notion, held by many older people, that “it’s too late for me” to switch habits.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, February 2015