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United States Patent Application 20070000922
Kind Code A1
Vovan; Terry ;   et al. January 4, 2007

Insertable compartmentalized packaging container

Abstract

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.


Inventors: Vovan; Terry; (Rialto, CA) ; Brown; Dean; (Beaverton, MI)
Correspondence Address:
    Terrance Mason
    12349 Milbank Street
    Studio City
    CA
    91604
    US
Assignee: PWP Industries

Serial No.: 173302
Series Code: 11
Filed: 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
International Class: B65B 7/28 20060101 B65B007/28; B65D 6/28 20060101 B65D006/28; B65D 21/02 20060101 B65D021/02


Claims



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 is circular.

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 is flat.

11. The container system in claim 1 wherein the lid of the first container is dome-shaped.

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 first container.

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 stackable.

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 snap-fit.
Description



FIELD OF THE INVENTION

[0001] 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

[0002] 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.

[0003] 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.

[0004] 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

[0005] 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.

[0006] 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.

[0007] 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

[0008] The present invention will become more fully understood from the detailed description and the accompanying drawings, wherein:

[0009] FIG. 1 is an isometric view of the container system that shows one embodiment of the invention.

[0010] FIG. 1A is a top view of the container system in FIG. 1.

[0011] FIG. 1B is a side cross-sectional view of the container system in FIG. 1.

[0012] FIG. 1C is an enlarged side cross-sectional view of the releaseably lockable snap-fit grip of the container system in FIG. 1.

[0013] FIG. 1D is a perspective view of the second container with a flexible foil lid.

[0014] FIG. 1E is a perspective view of the second container with an alternative snap-fit grip lid.

[0015] FIG. 2 is an isometric view of another embodiment of the invention.

[0016] FIG. 2A is a top view of the container system in FIG. 2.

[0017] FIG. 2B is a side cross-sectional view of the container system in FIG. 2.

[0018] FIG. 2C is an enlarged side cross-sectional view of the releaseably lockable snap-fit grip of the container system in FIG. 2.

[0019] 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.

[0020] FIG. 3 is an isometric view of the container system that shows another embodiment of the invention.

[0021] FIG. 3A is a top view of the container system in FIG. 3.

[0022] FIG. 3B is a side cross-sectional view of the container system in FIG. 3.

[0023] FIG. 3C is an enlarged side cross-sectional view of the releaseably lockable snap-fit grip of the container system in FIG. 3.

[0024] FIG. 4 is an isometric view of another embodiment of the invention side.

[0025] FIG. 4A is a top view of the lid of the first container of the container system in FIG. 4.

[0026] FIG. 4B is a side cross-sectional view of the container system in FIG. 4.

[0027] FIG. 4C is an enlarged side cross-sectional view of the releaseably lockable snap-fit grip of the container system in FIG. 4.

[0028] 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

[0029] 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.

[0030] 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 container.

[0031] 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.

[0032] 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.

[0033] 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 14.

[0034] 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.

[0035] 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.

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