Snacking is on the rise with $900 million spent on beating hunger pangs last year - and healthy options came out on top.

A Nielsen report released yesterday found 97 per cent of survey respondents said they regularly snacked between meals.

Spending on snacks has increased by 4 per cent from last year.

Although snacking has been labelled an unhealthy habit, healthier snacks were the preferred option, with 69 per cent of respondents eating fruit in the past month.

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But chocolate came a close second with 67 per cent, followed by potato chips at 62 per cent.

The director of retail for Nielsen NZ, Lance Dobson, said the survey provided a good reference point for producers looking to better understand consumer demand for snack products.

"We can definitely be called a nation of snackers," Dobson said. "It's pleasing to see healthy choices come out on top, but only just. The competition for 'share of stomach' is extremely fierce with a range of snack options available," he said.

A better understanding of consumer demand would help manufacturers crack the code on the right portfolio balance between indulgence and healthy, Dobson said. "It will also increase the odds of success in this ultra-competitive landscape."

The most common reason given for snacking was from people who didn't have lunch, with 45 per cent of those surveyed saying they had skipped lunch in favour of a snack in the past month.

Skipping breakfast was the second most common reason at 34 per cent, and 27 per cent looked to snacks rather than eat dinner.

Dobson said this also reflected the changing, and increasingly busy, lifestyles of New Zealanders.

"There is a perception that snacks are intended more for in-between meals than for actual replacements," Dobson said. "But busy, on-the-go lifestyles often dictate a need for quick meals, and many opt for fast-food options that can be high in calories and low in health benefits."

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