Meat snacks, the largest segment of the salty snacks category, is also the fastest-growing, according to a new study.

Sales of meat snacks have risen 45 percent in the past five years, reaching $3.6 billion, according to Chicago-based market research firm Mintel. Meat snacks account for 30 percent of all salty snacks.

Meat snacks made from prime cuts and other premium products are in high demand among all age groups, according to Mintel. Consumers aged 18 to 34 are most likely to be interested in meat snack bars and other portable options.

"While the inherent benefits of protein and portability favor all meat snack brands, we're seeing some of the smaller brands drawing a point of distinction by offering niche flavors and formats,” says John Owen, Mintel’s senior food and drink analyst. “Our research shows that young salty snack purchasers place extra value on the portability of meat snacks, as well as its versatility to be eaten beyond snacking occasions. There is an opportunity for brands to position meat snacks for breakfast, where protein and portability have become essential attributes.”