Drivers shift to eating on the go

Companies such as Kraft and Nabisco are repackaging staple foods to be eaten in cars — and minivans and pickups. They’re betting that even the most safety-conscious soccer parents and overscheduled entrepreneurs will gladly snap up mobile meals: yogurt in a tube. Or chips in stacks, not bags. Or portable soup, snuggled into a cup holder.

“People want foods they can eat with one hand,” says Mike Diegel of the Grocery Manufacturers Association. “For some people, the time saved is more important than the process of preparing a meal. We’re looking for convenience in everything we do.”

Campbell’s launched its Soup at Hand line last year with four soups. The response was so positive, company spokesman John Faulkner says, that officials expanded the line to 11. Three flavors — pizza, Mexican-style fiesta, and chicken and stars — are aimed at restless, car-bound kids.

Kellogg’s sells a breakfast cereal that can be eaten without milk, bowl or spoon: It’s shaped like a candy bar, with the milk baked in with the cornflakes. Another company makes an easy-to-eat taquito in a peel-down bag.

One-handed eating is growing along with commute times — the average Portland-area commute is 24.4 minutes, up from 20.9 minutes in 1990, according to the Census. Also, families are moving farther outside the urban growth boundary, so there’s less time for sit-down meals.

Instead of reading recipes, stressed-out parents all over the metro area are grabbing and gulping as they rush their children from one activity to another, tubs of snacks in tow.