Consumer packaged goods manufacturers, who have defined the tone and texture of supermarket shelves during the past half century, have also spent these years trying to make life easier for the consumer.
Indeed, the can opener borders on obsolescence, with even the legendary Campbell's offering a pop-top can and planning the introduction of a handheld, microwavable soup in September.
Pat Kirnan, a senior counselor with the Grocery Manufacturers of America, Washington, and president of Day/Kirnan and Associates, San Francisco, reflected on a simpler era.
"Brands were defined and packaged in a traditional way," Kirnan said, referring to the genesis of the supermarket in the early 1950s. "Soap was powdered, cereal was boxed, and soup came in a can."
However, in the political foment of the 1960s, June Cleaver began to lose sway over the domestic psyche.
An increasing number of women entered the workforce, and the realities of a dual-earner household posed a problem for the family meal. The "housewife" no longer had time to deal with all the individual cans and boxes.
"Manufacturers began to focus on assembling meals rather than cooking meals," Kirnan said.
According to Kirnan, one of the first, major breakthroughs in the CPG industry was the use of freeze-dried fruit in cereal. The ingredient was no longer the brand, he explained. "Prior to this, if you were buying corn flakes, that was what was in the box." Now, consumers were looking for their favorite fruit as well in a single step.
This concept remains the bedrock of innovation. Frito-Lay's combination chips and dip product is one of the strongest-selling snack items on grocery shelves today.
Bill Brunetti, an industry veteran and the owner of Brunos Foods, a single-store independent in Lakeport, Calif., has seen the trend toward convenience reset the entire store.
"There is not a single category in the store where the effort to cut down on prep time is not evident," he said. "Look at the [Hamburger/Chicken/Tuna] Helpers. There used to be two flavors, chicken and beef. Now, it takes eight feet to accommodate them."
Another category that has experienced exponential growth is pasta sauce, Brunetti said. People used to make pasta sauce to personal specifications. Today, garlic and fennel flavors come in a jar, and it's hard for the modern shopper to imagine anything else.
As prep time becomes scarcer, so does the time to consume. Eating on-the-go has become a national phenomenon.
"There has been a tremendous proliferation of eating experiences, and manufacturers want to satisfy them all," said Kirnan.
Portability is key, and serving size has also become a factor. America has become a nation of inveterate snackers. Single-servings of chips and soda can be found at any 7-Eleven, and supermarkets of today find themselves in competition with the convenience channel for the immediate-consumption shopper.
Jim Hickman, the owner of six Hickman's IGAs in Missouri, said that his stores have effectively adapted to the snacking culture. He pointed to the success of Frito Lay's 30-pack snack sizes.
"That has become a good category for us," he said. "Consumers don't want to have to stop at another store, so let's give them what they want."
Brunos' Brunetti agreed, saying that he depends upon snack-size cookies, crackers and chips for lunchbox-filler sales.
The trend toward convenience may have reached its apogee with Smucker's new Uncrustables, or frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, without the crusts. Hickman began carrying the product about a month ago.
"This is the way the world is today, and as supermarket operators we must adjust and take advantage of these opportunities," he said.