Starbucks wants coffee fans to think of it as a spot to grab lunch or late afternoon bite – not just a place to get a cup of morning joe.

The Seattle-based coffee chain is looking to increase its sales in the U.S. by making its food a bigger attraction, particularly in the slower afternoon and evening hours.

In April, for example, Starbucks Corp. launched several new sandwiches and salads, including options such as a Turkey and Havarti sandwich and a Hearty Veggie and Brown Rice Salad Bowl.

Troy Alstead, chief financial officer at Starbucks, said at the Jefferies Global Consumer Conference Tuesday that one out of every three purchases in the U.S. already includes a food item and that food accounts for 19 percent of overall sales. That's up from the low-teens "not that many years ago," he said.

And food should account for a greater portion of sales as the company rolls out better pastries from its recently acquired La Boulange bakery, he said.

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Alstead acknowledged that Starbucks' food hasn't always "met expectations." But now he said the company is working to get more regular customers to buy food along with their drinks. Better food can also attract new customers, he said.

With fast-food chains such as McDonald's and Burger King increasingly offering specialty coffees, the focus on food by Starbucks could be a key way for the company to continue pushing up its sales.

For its latest quarter, Starbucks said its sales at cafes open at least a year rose 7 percent in the U.S. the figure is a key metric because it strips out the impact of newly opened and closed locations.