CHICAGO — Baby boomers represent an untapped opportunity in the booming snacks market, particularly in the confectionery category, where younger generations drive most of the growth, according to Information Resources Inc. (I.R.I.).

“You’ve got 74 million consumers out there that are looking for some new options that will appeal to them,” said Sally Lyons Wyatt, executive vice-president of thought leadership at I.R.I., during a presentation at the Sweets & Snacks Expo in Chicago. “Their taste buds are different. What they like is different. You’ve got to take that into account and find some ways of attracting those consumers back into the category.”

Snacks continue to outpace total packaged food and beverage in dollar sales, rising 3.4% in the past year to reach $42.5 billion, according to I.R.I. data. Candy sales grew 1.4% to $25.3 billion.

“On average consumers are snacking over 2.5 snacks a day,” Ms. Lyons Wyatt said. “And that continues to grow. Younger consumers actually snack more than that, and we think there’s a great potential for future growth in snacking because of the younger consumers eating smaller portions throughout the day and snacking throughout the day.”

Chickpea snacksPotato chips, tortilla chips, snack nuts and nutrition bars are among the top snacking categories, but other salted snacks, such as products featuring seaweed, onion, chickpeas or beans, are driving significant growth, Ms. Lyons Wyatt noted.

“This is where consumers are gravitating,” she said. “Why? Because it’s exciting. Because they’re getting different snacks and different forms of snacks.”

Within snacking, product preferences vary across generations. Popcorn, pork rinds, snack nuts and sunflower seeds appeal to boomers, while millennial and Generation X consumers are more likely to purchase fruit snacks, granola bars, tortilla chips and other salted snacks.

The confectionery market is largely comprised of chocolate, seasonal candy and non-chocolate chewy candy, the latter of which contributed more than half of dollar sales growth in the past year. Millennials and Generation X consumers demonstrate broad appeal for a wide variety of confections. Baby boomers buy fewer treats, Ms. Lyons Wyatt said.

“It doesn’t mean that they’re not buying,” she said. “Compared to the average consumer, they’re not buying as much.”

Chocolate wafer barNon-G.M.O., gluten-free and organic claims continue to drive growth in snacking and confections. Vegan is emerging as a key attribute.

Baby boomers seek snacks with low or no saturated fat and reduced sodium and are more likely to choose confections with protein, antioxidants, reduced sugar and no or low caffeine, Ms. Lyons Wyatt said.

“Functional and holistic health attributes are really appealing across the generations,” she said. “As you look across your portfolio, are you having different types of products that are going to appeal to the different generations from a confections standpoint?”