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|United States Patent Application
;   et al.
January 4, 2007
Insertable compartmentalized packaging container
A prepackaged food container system comprising a larger first container
that is releaseably attached to a smaller second container is described.
The first container may be used to contain food product such as
vegetable, fruit or bakery items, and the second container used to hold a
matching condiment. The second container is releaseably attached to the
lid of the first container and may be placed on the outside or inside of
the first container as desired by the food packager and/or consumer.
Attaching the containers together is achieved using commonly known
snap-fit mechanisms that may be continuous grooves or ribs on the
periphery of the side wall; alternatively, the snap-fit mechanism may be
cantilever-type. The food product contents of both containers may be
mixed in the larger first container and consumed directly from said first
container. Plastic food containers with lids allows for sealing, release
and re-sealing multiple times without deterioration in reliability.
Vovan; Terry; (Rialto, CA)
; Brown; Dean; (Beaverton, MI)
12349 Milbank Street
June 30, 2005|
|Current U.S. Class:
||220/4.27; 206/508; 220/23.83; 220/23.87; 220/522; 53/471 |
|Class at Publication:
||220/004.27; 053/471; 220/023.83; 220/023.87; 220/522; 206/508 |
||B65B 7/28 20060101 B65B007/28; B65D 6/28 20060101 B65D006/28; B65D 21/02 20060101 B65D021/02|
1. A food container system, comprising: a first container including a lid;
a lidded second container including a lid is volumetrically smaller than
the first container; wherein the lid of the first container and second
container are adapted to be releaseably lockable to each other through
the use of one or more snap-fit grips.
2. The container system of claim 1 wherein the mating surfaces of the
snap-fit is in continuous contact with each other when locked.
3. The container system of claim 1 wherein the snap-fit comprises: a
plurality of cantilever-based male ribs in the lid of the first
container; and a corresponding mating female groove in the sidewall of
the second container.
4. The container system of claim 1, wherein the second container is
releaseably lockable to the topside of the lid of the first container.
5. The container system of claim 1, wherein the second container is
releaseably lockable to the underside of the lid of the first container.
6. The container system of claim 1 wherein the material of the first
container is Polystyrene, Polypropylene, Polyethylene Terephthalate,
Polylactide, Polyvinyl Chloride, or other rigid polymers.
7. The container system of claim 1 wherein the material of the second
container is Polystyrene, Polypropylene, Polyethylene Terephthalate,
Polylactide, Polyvinyl Chloride, or other rigid polymers.
8. The container system of claim 1 wherein the lid of the first container
9. The container system of claim 1 wherein the lid of the first container
is a polygon.
10. The container system in claim 1 wherein the lid of the first container
11. The container system in claim 1 wherein the lid of the first container
12. The container system of claim 1 wherein the lid of the first container
is a tamper-evident lid.
13. The container system in claim 1 wherein the lateral cross-section of
the second container is circular.
14. The container system in claim 1 wherein the lateral cross-section of
the second container is a polygon.
15. The container in accordance with claim 1 wherein the lateral
cross-section of the second container is square.
16. The container in accordance with claim 1 wherein the lateral
cross-section of the second container is rectangular.
17. The container system in claim 1 further comprising: a recess in the
topside of the lid of the first container, the recess having a lateral
cross-sectional shape that is homogeneous with but marginally larger than
the cross-sectional shape of the second container; a second container
tray having a lateral cross-sectional area that decreases from its rim to
its floor; wherein the second container can be fitted snugly into the
recess of lid of the first container.
18. The container system in claim 17 wherein the depth of the recess of
the first container ranges from 1 millimeter to approximately the length
of the second container measured in its axial direction.
19. The container system in claim 17 wherein the recess includes a slot of
sufficient size to allow the consumer to insert the tip of their finger
and to facilitate release of the second container from the lid of the
20. The container system in claim 1 wherein the first container is formed
with a recess in the underside of its lid to hold the second container
wherein the depth of the recess is approximately the length of the second
container measured in its axial direction.
21. The container system of claim 1 in which the container system is
22. A method of prepackaged food assembly, comprising: placing a food
product into a first container; enclosing this first container with a
rigid polymer lid; placing another food product into a second container;
enclosing the food product of this second container with a lid; and
connecting the first and second containers using a releaseably lockable
FIELD OF THE INVENTION
 The present invention relates to rigid food packaging containment
that preserves and facilitates the displaying of contents. More
particularly, the invention relates to a food packaging containment
system where a first food container and a second, smaller food container
are held together by snap-fit.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
 Retail markets have historically utilized rigid and flexible
plastic containers to contain and display perishable and fragile food
items, such as salads and bakery items. These traditional roles of
plastic packaging are now the minimum expected standards, and the
requirements placed on plastic food packaging continue to expand as
increasing demands are placed upon it. Presentation, brand presence,
consumer desires, added value to enhance commercial competitiveness,
differentiation, imagery and psychology has resulted in the design and
application of plastic packaging becoming more challenging. Consumers'
increasing propensity to eat and drink on-the-go are identified as
growing trends. Not surprisingly therefore, convenience is shaping the
future of packaging, with consumers gravitating toward packaged
convenience items that minimize the impact on their behavior forcing
packaging manufacturers to include social and environmental
considerations into their development process.
 Pre-packaged, ready-to-eat food items such as vegetable and/or
fruit salads are generally offered to consumers in flexible containers
that are made from clear plastic material to permit the consumer to view
the product without touching (contaminating) the product. Current
available pre-packaged, ready-to-eat food items often contain smaller
second rigid plastic or foil packaged items, e.g. condiment or salad
dressing, that is intended for the consumer to combine with the vegetable
and/or fruit contained in the first container prior to consuming.
However, flexible packaging has significant deficiencies. Care needs to
be taken in handling since the food product is not protected from being
crushed; similarly, flexible packaging does not easily permit package
stacking for bulk shipping and display purposes. It is also frequently
difficult to read the labeling of the second container because it is
obscured by the contents of the first package and/or the labeling on that
first container. Additionally, although the consumer may desire the food
product of first container, product sales are lost because of the
consumer's preference for different condiment or salad dressing. In
response to the evolving demands of consumers, retailers continue to seek
novel plastic packaging solutions to improve on the safety, convenience
and therefore marketability of food product.
 As such, the inventors recognizes that greater utility of such food
containers would be obtained through an integrated compartmentalization
approach that is convenient, accurate and increases the aesthetic
qualities of the perishable product contained in the packaging. The
present invention fulfills this need.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
 The present invention relates to an integrated food container
system. The first container holds the food product (e.g. salad) and the
second container holds a second food product (e.g. condiment). The first
container comprises a tray and a lid, where the tray and the lid may be
hinged. Fastfood, as well as prepackaged food product has been available
in this convenient form for many years. In the present invention, the
food product contents of the first and second containers are therefore
separate. In one embodiment of the invention, the first and second
containers are integrated via a releaseably lockable snap-fit grip with
the smaller, second container mounted on the top of lid of the larger,
first container, that is, outside of the first container. More
specifically, the elements comprising the snap-fit enable a force fit
between the lid of the first container and a second condiment container.
The snap-fit may include on the periphery or cantilever types. Therefore,
the retail outlet may provide the consumer with prepackaged product that
clearly displays both food items (e.g. salad dressing and salad) as a
single product item for sale.
 In another embodiment of the invention, the second container may be
attached to the first container via a releaseably lockable snap-fit grip
on the underside of the lid of the first container; the second container
would therefore be in the inside of the first container. In this manner,
the consumer is given greater latitude of product choice, e.g. choosing a
first container holding one of a variety of different salads and a second
container holding one of a variety of different salad dressings.
 Further areas of applicability of the present invention will become
apparent from the detailed description provided hereinafter. It should be
understood that the detailed description and specific examples are
intended for purposes of illustration only and are not intended to limit
the scope of the invention.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
 The present invention will become more fully understood from the
detailed description and the accompanying drawings, wherein:
 FIG. 1 is an isometric view of the container system that shows one
embodiment of the invention.
 FIG. 1A is a top view of the container system in FIG. 1.
 FIG. 1B is a side cross-sectional view of the container system in
 FIG. 1C is an enlarged side cross-sectional view of the releaseably
lockable snap-fit grip of the container system in FIG. 1.
 FIG. 1D is a perspective view of the second container with a
flexible foil lid.
 FIG. 1E is a perspective view of the second container with an
alternative snap-fit grip lid.
 FIG. 2 is an isometric view of another embodiment of the invention.
 FIG. 2A is a top view of the container system in FIG. 2.
 FIG. 2B is a side cross-sectional view of the container system in
 FIG. 2C is an enlarged side cross-sectional view of the releaseably
lockable snap-fit grip of the container system in FIG. 2.
 FIG. 2D is an enlarged side cross-sectional view of the two
releaseably lockable snap-fit mechanisms firstly between the tray and lid
of the second container and secondly between the lid of the first
container and the lid of the second container.
 FIG. 3 is an isometric view of the container system that shows
another embodiment of the invention.
 FIG. 3A is a top view of the container system in FIG. 3.
 FIG. 3B is a side cross-sectional view of the container system in
 FIG. 3C is an enlarged side cross-sectional view of the releaseably
lockable snap-fit grip of the container system in FIG. 3.
 FIG. 4 is an isometric view of another embodiment of the invention
 FIG. 4A is a top view of the lid of the first container of the
container system in FIG. 4.
 FIG. 4B is a side cross-sectional view of the container system in
 FIG. 4C is an enlarged side cross-sectional view of the releaseably
lockable snap-fit grip of the container system in FIG. 4.
 FIG. 4D is an enlarged side cross-sectional view of the indentation
in the lid of the first container of the container system in FIG. 4.
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS
 The following description of the preferred embodiment is merely
exemplary in nature and is in no way intended to limit the invention, its
application, or uses. Turning now in detail to FIGS. 1-1E, therein
illustrated is a food container system 10 that includes a first container
comprising a lower tray 20 into which food such as fruit and/or vegetable
salad is placed, and lid 18 that when mounted on the lower tray 20 will
seal the food contents, and a second, smaller container 12 that contains
another food item such as relish, vinegar, spice, salad dressing or other
condiment and which is further releaseably fastened on the lid 18 of the
first container using a snap-fit. It is anticipated that greater
convenience is achieved and that the food packager and retailer's end
user client, the consumer, will be able to select such food combination
product more easily and readily.
 The figures illustrate packaging concepts made from plastic, which
is made up principally of a binder together with plasticizers, fillers,
pigments, and other additives. There is significant literature on the
chemistry and manufacturing processes, as well as applications related to
plastics. For the purposes of this invention, plastic trays and matching
lids have been available in a variety of designs and has found
applications in numerous markets from food and general purpose industrial
product to retail products because of its versatility in material
characteristics allowing the plastic designer to affect its strength,
imperviousness, flexibility, robustness, mold-ability and clarity, among
other things. In the embodiment shown, the second container 12 is
releaseably lockable to the lid 18 of the first container via discretely
located male snap-fit ribs 16 such that they are generally opposing, and
a matching female groove 14 located in the sidewall of the second
 It may be useful to note that snap-fits as referred to here are
commonly used as an assembly method for rigid polymer molded parts, and
they have become more important and useful in simplifying assembly and
reducing costs. A snap-fit is a mechanical joint system where
part-to-part attachment is accomplished with locking features (constraint
features) that are homogenous with one or the other of the components
being joined. Joining requires the (flexible) locking features to move
aside for engagement with the mating part, followed by return of the
locking feature toward its original position to accomplish the
interference fit required to latch the components together. Snap-fits
eliminate other joining methods, e.g. screws, clips, and adhesives. The
illustrations contained in the figures show that the snap-fits are molded
into the lid of the first container and the sidewall of the second
container, thus dispensing with the need for screws, clips or adhesives
to integrate them together. Additionally and especially with respect to
rigid polymer products, the containers can be assembled, disassembled and
reassembled many times over without a decline in reliability. However, in
order to enable a quality snap-fit, a high degree of precision is needed
to ensure that the force-fitting of the male to female elements of the
snap-fit is true. As illustrated, the second container 12 is releaseably
locked to the top side 19 of the lid 18 of the first container 20. The
peripheral female groove 14 in the sidewall of the second container, as
well as discrete cantilever-type male ribs 16 as shown in FIGS. 1, 1B and
1C are a relatively common convenient form of snap-fit joint between two
symmetric parts. The cross-section of the mating parts can be circular
(annular) or any polygonal shape provided, however, that the male and
female elements of the snap-fit are symmetric. For the embodiments
described, the joint is meant to be easily detachable as opposed to being
made to be inseparable. FIGS. 1D, 1E and 1F illustrate how the food
contents of the second container 12 may be protected by using a flexible
foil-type lid 22 that is attached to the flange 15 of the second
container typically using an adhesive or a snap-fit grip lid 23, both
techniques of which have been practiced and continue to be used in the
marketplace. Convenience to the consumer is increase by allow them to
rapidly assess and decide on food combinations and find it easier to
stack the product together with their other purchases. It is anticipated
that some consumers will combine the two food products into the first
container, re-fasten its lid 18 and shake the contents in order to better
mix the contents.
 In another embodiment of the invention, and as illustrated in FIGS.
2-2D, the second container 12 is placed inside of the first container and
is further releaseably attached to the underside 21 of the lid 18 of the
first container. In this configuration, the male element of the snap-fit
grip is the raised ribs 26 on the underside 21 of the lid 18 of the first
container. Attachment of the second container 12 to the underside 21 of
the lid 18 of the first container is achieved through a snap-fit grip
directly between the flange 15 of the second container 12 to the raised
ribs 26 on the underside 21of the lid 18 of the first container.
Alternatively, if the second container 12 were to utilize the snap-fit
grip lid 23, a similar releaseably lockable snap-fit attachment can be
achieved between this lid 23 and the lid 18 of the first container as
illustrated in FIG. 2D. In response to consumers' desire to view food
product prior to purchase, food packagers have increasingly turned to
clear plastic material such as that afforded by Polyethylene
Terephthalate. Additionally, food packagers desire to advertise and are
generally required to affix labels of the product content to the side
wall and/or top of packaging for viewing by the prospective consumer.
Therefore, in this embodiment, it is possible for the prospective
consumer to view labeling on either the flexible-type lid 22 or snap-fit
grip lid 23 through the clear plastic lid 18 of the first container 20.
This embodiment permits the food retail operator to provide a fixed or
standardized combination of food products where desirable. A further
variation of this embodiment of the invention illustrated in FIGS. 3-3C.
 Referring to FIGS. 3-3C, another embodiment is shown in which the
second container 12 is placed is a recess 28 on the underside 21 of lid
18 of the first container. The flange 15 of the second container 12
engages with the male ribs 26 thereby creating a snap-fit grip as
previously described. This embodiment increases the volumetric capacity
of the first container when compared to the configuration illustrated in
FIGS. 2- 2D. FIGS. 3 and 3A and depicts both a hexagonal cross-sectioned
recess 28 and corresponding hexagonal cross-sectioned second container
12. This is intended to demonstrate that alternative embodiments of the
recess and the second container may assume any of a variety of
cross-section configurations from circular as in FIGS. 1 and 2 to any
polygonal configuration as may be desired to increase the marketability
of the food product. Furthermore, attachment of the containers may, in
alternative embodiments, include snap-fit grips that include a continuous
peripheral male rib (not shown) on the underside 21 of the lid 18 of the
first container that is used to mate with its corresponding female groove
 Referring to FIGS. 4-4D, an embodiment is shown in which a recess
30 is made in the top side 19 of the lid 18 of the first container into
which the second container is placed and is additionally held in place by
snap-fit grips made up by male ribs 32 on the edge of the recess 30. Of
note is the inclusion of a finger slot 34 in the periphery of the recess
30 of sufficient size to allow the consumer to insert their finger under
the flange 15 of the second container 12 to facilitate its release from
the lid 18 of the first container. As shown in greater detail in FIG. 4D,
the finger slot 34 has preferably a contoured edge 35 to enable easy
entry. Another advantage of this configuration is that the surface of the
top of the second container is flush with that of the first container
thereby permitting additional packaging advertising or accessories to be
attached to the final sale product. Although a relatively flat lid 18 of
the first container is shown, alternative embodiments or variations made
include dome lids that can help to increase the volumetric capacity of
the first container.
 The invention is susceptible to various modifications and
alternative forms. The description of the invention is merely exemplary
in nature and, thus, variations that do not depart from the gist of the
invention are intended to be within the scope of the invention. Such
variations are not to be regarded as a departure from the spirit and
scope of the invention.
* * * * *