America's cupholder cuisine comes to Britain

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The Independent Online

America's growing appetite for eating at the dashboard is also catching on with British motorists, who are increasingly taking their meals on the move.

US drivers have already spawned a multi-billion-dollar industry in "cup-holder cuisine", with snacks, cookies, soups and even cooked dinners designed to be eaten one-handed while driving.

Now with garage forecourts moving heavily into food sales, manufacturers are tempting UK motorists to take their meals in the upholstered comfort of the family car, with easy-to-open packaging and containers that fit into the cup-holders fitted in many new cars. Garage shops in the UK already account for 60 per cent of all lunches taken on the move in the UK and 40 per cent of breakfasts, according to new figures from analysts at Harris International Marketing. And the proportion is rising.

There is a long way to go before we match the US appetite for motorised meals. Research by the Culinary Institute of America shows that an extraordinary 20 per cent of meals in the US are eaten in vehicles.

The craze has even changed the way vehicles are being built: one survey shows US car buyers are more interested in cup-holders than they are in fuel efficiency.

"People want foods they can eat with one hand," said Mike Diegel, a spokesman for the Grocery Manufacturers Association. "For some people, the time saved is more important than the process of preparing a meal."

One company at the forefront of this new craze is Campbell's, famous for its soups. In 2003 the company unveiled four different soups in an ergonomically shaped holder designed to be microwaved and then drunk with one hand. The craze does not stop with soup. Quaker sells Instant Oatmeal Express packaged in a cup. Frito-Lay sells an entire range of Go-Snacks crisps and cookies in tubes rather than packets: yoghurt comes in tubes, breakfast cereals come in bars in which powdered milk has been infused. Last year a total of 145 such convenience products were placed on the market.

Tom Fender, from Harris International Marketing, said: "Change is undoubtedly on the way. In America 50 per cent of meals are already eaten outside the home, and here we are already at 32 per cent. Brits leave home 14 times a month without having breakfast and eat lunch on the go 10 times a month. The market is there for the taking."

The trend has provided a windfall for manufacturers. Consumers, it appears, are prepared to pay two or three times the normal price for food that can be eaten on the move.

But not everyone is happy with the trend. Fairley Washington, a spokeswoman for the American Automobile Association Foundation of Traffic Safety, said: "You should not be involved in any activity that distracts you from having both hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road."

Additional reporting by Malcolm Weir