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Commuter Consumer

Every year, 14.8 million plastic beverage cups and 12.3 million paper hot cups are sold in the food service industry, according to Technomic Inc., which reports that food service operators spend $3.5 billion a year on beverage containers.

Cups and other containers have changed dramatically over the past five or six years, says Beth Dahlke, senior vice president of marketing for Solo Cup Co. Now, packaging is driven by the time-starved driver's need for convenience. People want to grab and go. And the coffee lid -- make that the beverage lid -- has just gotten a whole lot different.

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Solo has developed the Traveler Plus -- the lid that 7-Eleven is adopting -- which swivels open and can be closed again. "It's geared for people in motion," Dahlke says.

Today's beverages demand a whole range of cups and covers, flat lids with straw access for sodas, domed for hot beverages, bubble-topped to accommodate whipped cream or frozen drinks.

"Have you ever tried to eat a salad in the car?" Dahlke asks.

If so, you've understood the merits of salads that fit in a cup and can be shaken out. And you probably are fond of condiment containers that stay shut. "Our products have to be motion friendly," she says.

Heard a Good Book Lately?

All that motion has been good for the audio book industry, says Mary Beth Roche, president of the Audio Publishers Association, who estimates the size of the market at $800 million and growing.

Tapes still make up about half the market, but CDs are rapidly gaining ground. And download is big. Audible, a provider of digitally delivered spoken-word audio, saw sales rise to $18 million in 2003, up from $5 million in 2001.

Already, the Internet is full of Web sites advertising adaptors for the iPod, which hook it up to the car radio and comfortably cradle it -- in the cup holder.

"We know the number one place people listen to an audio book is in the car," she says. "The best patrons are the best book-buyers. They're avid readers who use audio books to keep up when their eyes are busy."

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