On the convenience scale, one step beyond the precooked hamburger patty is the complete, precooked hamburger sandwich — bun and cheese included. For instance, Fast Fixin' On-the-Go Cheeseburgers by Advance Brands are sold by the half-dozen, come individually wrapped on a bun with cheese, and microwave in just one minute.

This item falls into the “handheld” entrée category — one of the fastest growing convenient meal solutions. The handheld category includes sandwiches and other refrigerated and frozen items that folks can easily eat on the go. In 2005, dollar sales were up 16.5% for refrigerated handheld products, and up 8.2% for frozen handheld products. That's according to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) Beef Innovations Group.

Currently, retail handheld items are more likely to contain pork and chicken than beef. But the good news is the checkoff-funded Beef Innovations Group has studied the handheld foods category and is tailoring new beef product concepts to tap into this market.

“There's tremendous, untapped potential for more beef items in this category,” says Randy Irion, NCBA's director of retail marketing.

Bill O'Neill, vice president of business development for Advance Brands, agrees. He says the market potential for prepared frozen sandwiches is huge, especially for the beef industry.

Commuters, mom's taxi service, occupational driving, 'tweens and teens on the go, and light bites — the new eating habit of smaller portions more frequently rather than larger, traditional meals — are all driving the need for handheld consumption.

Just-for-one packaging is another related food industry trend. According to the market research company Datamonitor, that's a response to new research suggesting the average number of persons per household is barely more than two.

Diana Barto is a freelance writer based in Waconia, MN, and a former BEEF Senior Associate Editor.