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Newsweek International reports on the growth of “extreme commuters,” defined as people who travel ninety minutes each way to work on a daily basis.

This demographic group, according to the magazine, is “an increasingly important economic force shaping everything from real-estate markets to fast-food menus.

“More Americans than ever are willing to trade time in their car for the dream of a big house and a big yard. Nearly 10 million people now drive more than an hour to work, up 50 percent from 1990. Many are doing what California real-estate agents call ‘driving 'til you qualify’ for a mortgage. In places like southern California, each exit along the interstate saves you tens of thousands of dollars.”

And, according to the story, it is a phenomenon that is spreading across the globe: “The long commute is now cementing itself in Europe and spreading from Japan to the rest of Asia as well. Indeed, University of California Urban Planning professor Michael Woo says that Chinese commuters travel as far and spend as much time in cars as Californians—more than an hour a day.”

Among the innovations cited by Newsweek that cater to this growing consumer group:

• C-store chain Sheetz is putting touchscreen menus at its gas pumps, so people can order food as they pump their own gas and then pick up their order at the drive-through window.

• “Cup holders, first introduced in 1982, now outnumber seats in many cars,” Newsweek writes. “The new Nissan Altima has three cup holders just for the driver: one for bottled water, one for coffee and one for juice. There are even slots for bottle caps. The new Dodge Caliber offers an optional refrigerated glove box, and its front passenger seat transforms into a dining table when you fold it flat.”
KC's View:
How about in-car catheters? Now, there’s a concept.

(At the risk of sounding like Cliff Clavin, here’s a little known fact: the urinary catheter was invented by Benjamin Franklin.)

Some retailers – though specifics were not named by Newsweek - reportedly are considering putting lavatories out at the gas pumps in order to keep traffic moving faster.

Which would, we think, give whole new meaning to the term “regular.”

But seriously, folks…

Seems to us that at some level, a story like this would suggest that every modern food store should have at least one drive-up window, and probably several, that can offer a variety of products and services to the customer on the move.

It doesn’t seem to us like any way to live, but it is a reality of the modern consumer. (We’re lucky. We roll out of bed at 5 am or so, go downstairs to pour a cup of coffee, and start reading the wires and writing. MNB World Headquarters is about two blocks away, over a pub, across the street from a Dunkin’ Donuts and two blocks away from Starbucks. So we cannot imagine living life in the car.)

Some studies suggest that Americans eat an average of 32 meals a year in their cars, and the number is growing.

This is a trend to which the food retailing industry needs to pay close attention, creating stores that take this evolution very, very seriously.

Another piece of evidence of this trend is seen in our next story…