Millennials have been in the spotlight for years, but now the next generation is starting to claim some of that attention — call them Generation Z.

They range in age from 23 years all the way down to zero, they make up some 32 percent of this country’s population and technology is second nature to them.

Researchers and marketers have been taking a hard look at this new group to assess their habits and interests. At their young age, they already wield about $250 billion in spending power. Food is an area where they are likely to spend that money, and some of them may already be the primary decision makers for the majority of their food and beverage purchases.

When it comes to deciding what to eat, Generation Z shows a strong interest in healthy eating, according to a new survey by The NPD Group. They found that the majority of Generation Z consumers prefer fresh foods that are prepared fresh — vegetables, fruits, meat and poultry. They’d rather have home-cooked foods than processed or ready-to-eat foods; they’d rather rely on the stove or the oven to prepare their meals than pop them in the microwave. 

The report predicts that Generation Z consumers will show an 11.1 percent increase in fresh food demand between 2013 and 2018 — a number that’s substantially higher than the 2 percent projected population growth that the group will be responsible for during that time. The NPD report predicts that these consumers will want more salads and quick-assembly meals (meaning sandwiches and meal kits); demand for microwaveable foods is expected to decline.

An NPD study from 2013 revealed some of Generation Z’s favorite fresh foods: chicken, eggs, potatoes, bananas, apples, bacon, carrots and hot dogs. Favorite snacks included granola and dried fruit, and they were fans of frequently turning snacks into meals. Generation Zers are also more likely to be vegetarians than older generations, according to Supermarket News, a choice that the authors thought could be attributed to the messages around sustainability that they’ve been hearing basically all their lives.

Their interest in fresh foods is not surprising, considering that the generation also grew up with the local foods movement, the Food Network and ubiquitous celebrity chefs. They’ve also been steeped in messages about healthy food choices in light of the pervasive problem of obesity.

Research also shows that food is a high priority for them. They spend a majority of their monthly allowances on food and snacks — more than any other category — and 58 percent of teenagers are willing to pay more for organic and natural products, according to a report called “Wake Up: A Strategic Intel Report on Generation Z.”

As this generation of consumers comes onto the stage, they will be getting plenty of attention from food marketers, but of course, they will not be alone. In a press release, an NPD analyst said, “Generation Z, Millennials and Hispanics will be the growth drivers of this country’s eating patterns over the next five years.”