MINNEAPOLIS - Some historians estimate that “meat snacks” have been around since the 1550s, but you can credit millennials with bringing the protein-packed snack sales up.

To be fair, sales have always been steady, but in the last four years the compounding growth of 7 percent has put beef jerky in the race for most sought-after snack, against potato chips of course.

Dennis McGreevy, the founder and president of Minneapolis-based Jim Dandy, credits millennials for sales.

"Millennials are looking for authenticity in products," McGreevy says. "They also shun a lot of sugar products.”

Indeed, with the trends turning to low-carbohydrate and low-sugar diets, many people are turning to a “healthier” alternative.

"Surprisingly, they’re no longer considered a blue collar, working male product," McGreevy says.

The appeal is spreading with different flavors, textures and proteins.

Mom and pop jerky shops are popping up all over and artisanal products are making their way into the market.

Epic, an Austin, Texas-based company recently acquired by General Mills, is modernizing the jerky menu with proteins like bison, salmon and venison.

A study done by market research group IRI shows that Americans spend about $2.8 billion a year on the salty snack, so whether exotic meats or the classic road trip essentials, the jerky trend isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.