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Archive for Sunday, November 27, 2005

Food industry caters to consumers on the go

November 27, 2005

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Paul Betancourt spends up to four days a week on the road and might drive more than 500 miles a week for his sales job.

It adds up to a lot of bagels, slices and wrap sandwiches chomped behind the wheel.

"That's just the nature of the job," Betancourt said. "Because of the distance, you just find yourself eating behind the wheel."

Betancourt has a lot of company. With Americans eating more meals in their cars, food makers are obliging with an array of glop-free, finger-friendly products suitable for any meal and in between.

So-called cupholder cuisine ranges from cereal bars with the milk congealed inside to the new "crunch wrap" - Taco Bell's answer to the age-old leaky taco problem.

"We've been looking at our drive-through business growing steadily over the last couple of years," said Laurie Schalow, a Taco Bell spokesman. "It's currently at 70 percent of our business."

McDonald's, meanwhile, put a salad in a cup and also developed McGriddles breakfast sandwiches with the "yummy taste of maple syrup baked right in."

And on the supermarket shelves: yogurt in squeeze tubes, Cheerios Milk 'n' Cereal Bars, miniature versions of Cheetos and Doritos, and Campbell's Soup at Hand line of drinkable soups with smaller solid bits for easier sipping. The soups and snacks even come in cylinders with hourglass curves to fit snugly into cupholders.

Kelton Research, polling 1,000 people for Taco Bell this summer, found the portion of people who say they eat in the car at least once a day (9 percent) was eclipsed by the number of people who say they never eat in the car (31 percent).

NPD Group, a market researcher, said the average person ate 32 restaurant meals in the car last year. That is up from 19 in 1984.

"Thank God for the power window," said Harry Balzer, NPD food industry analyst.

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