1. A container having:
- a floor;
- sidewalk generally upstanding from the floor; and
- an opening for receipt of product into the container, the opening being at least partially defined by a rim;
wherein at least one of the sidewalls terminates substantially at the rim while at least one other of the sidewalls has a portion which extends generally upwardly above the rim, the extended portion being adapted to support any product extending above the rim.
2. The container of claim 1, wherein each extended portion is folded to form primary and secondary walls.
3. The container of claim 1 or 2, wherein the or each extended portion is adapted to be folded, bent or flexed inwards.
4. The container of any one of claims 1 to 3, which includes one or more drainage holes in the floor.
5. The container of any one of claims 1 to 4, which includes one or more ventilation channels in or near the rim.
6. The container of any one of claims 1 to 5, wherein the floor has a first non- planar shape.
7. The container of claim 6, wherein the floor is upwardly or inwardly arched, stepped or contoured.
8- The container of claim 6 or 7, wherein the or each extended portion has a second non-planar shape adapted to complement the first non-planar shape of the floor.
9. The container of claim 8, wherein the or each extended portion has an apex at the top of an arch.
10. The container of any one of claims 1 to 9, which has four of the sidewalls, two opposing sidewalls of which have the extended portions.
11. The container of any one of claims 1 to 9, wherein the container has four of the sidewalls, one of the sidewalls having the extended portion.
12. The container of claim 11, wherein the extended portion is sized to span the opening, having a leading edge adapted to meet or overlap the rim without insertion into the opening.
13. The container of any one of claims 1 to 12, which includes means to hold the or each extended portion in a folded, bent or flexed inwards configuration.
14. The container of claim 13, wherein the means is chosen from the group consisting of: flexible film, netting, heat sealing, adhesive membrane, friction fit and plug and socket latch.
15. A method of presenting a plurality of the containers of the invention, one of the containers having a first non-planer shape in the floor and another of the containers having a second non-planer shape in the or each extended portion, the first non-planer shape being complementary to the second non-planar shape, the method including the step of annexing the one container with the other container so that the first non-planar shape of the one container nests with second non-planar shape of the other container.
The method of claim 15, wherein the first shape is concave and the second shape is convex, or vice versa.
A container substantially as herein described with reference to any one of Figures 1 to 5 or 6 or 7 or 8 of the accompanying drawings.
Field of the Invention
This invention relates to containers. In particular, this invention relates to containers intended to hold fresh food or produce, although the scope of the invention is not limited to this area.
The invention is especially concerned with containers in a form which can facilitate covering the open container with an adhesive membrane, flexible film or netting, whilst protecting any contents of the container which may otherwise protrude above the rim height of any traditional container used for this purpose. The invention also provides a method for utilising a single container size for a number of products wherein each product has a unique density or mass and, when filled to a required net weight, the resulting, unique void area in each instance is required to be minimised.
In some instances, the invention also improves column stacking stability and on- shelf display of such containers.
In some embodiments, the invention teaches a means by which a number of integrally formed covering means may be provided with the container, whilst minimising the footprint area of the sheeted material traditionally required during manufacture.
Further, in some instances the invention provides alternative means for providing partial closure for containers for products which arc required to be stacked or arranged in multiples, particularly where upper or adjacent containers would otherwise rest, at least indirectly, on product in lower or adjacent containers.
Priority is claimed of Australian Patent Application Number 2007905364, the contents of the specification of which are incorporated herein by reference.
Background of the Invention
Thermoformed containers suitable for holding fresh food or produce are in common use. Traditionally, these have included open-topped containers with a relatively flat floor area from which extends a number of sidewalk, ending at a top rim which is at least substantially planar. This top rim defines the opening of the container through which the contents would pass into the container and often governs the usable capacity of the container in respect to the container's sidewalls, floor and contents held therein. The container's top rim is sometimes designed so as to receive or support an adhesive membrane such as a flat, heat-sealable, lidding film or similar membrane, as a means to seal the container whilst enclosing the contents of the container. Alternatively, the container and its contents may be over- wrapped with a suitable, flexible film, netting or stretchable sheath. In the latter instances, the container's contents may at times protrude beyond the top rim of the container, leaving the contents particularly vulnerable to excessive and unwanted damage in packing, transit and at retail store level.
By way of example, a traditional, open topped container often has a top rim which is horizontal or planar in use, such as the type used to package fresh, sliced mushrooms. This traditional container style would generally allow for two possible outcomes when filled and over-wrapped. For example, whole mushrooms of a given net weight when packed may protrude above any top rim and be subjected to damage in transit or on the supermarket shelf or, alternatively, the same or other net weight of sliced mushrooms, or a different variety of whole, fresh mushroom product, or any other product for thai matter, may not protrude beyond the top rim when packed into the same traditional container size, thus being less appealing to the consumer, or causing the related over- wrap to appear loose or slack and giving the impression that the tray was not properly filled, particularly in a comparative sense. As mushroom trays are generally "filled to net weight", differing densities,
sizes and shapes or mushroom varieties all have a tendency to present differently when filled to weight into a common container size.
Accordingly, there is a need for a container design which is suitable for a variety of products of different densities or mass, to use a common tray size without detracting from the ultimate look or appeal of each individual product at store level, in relation to many factors, including, but not limited to the container void- to-fill ratio.
Other problems relating to these traditional "planar top-rimmed" containers can include the generally flat container floor area, which is often not ideal for multiple stacking of these containers, particularly where the contents protrude beyond the top rim of a lower container when the containers are column stacked, or into the region of any adjacent container when stacked in multiples standing on edge. This problem contributes to damage and spoilage of the contents of these containers and is often inefficient or cumbersome with regard to available space on shelf/in-store and in shipping crates/cartons or wherever multiple, similar containers arc stacked together.
It is an object of the present invention, at least in some embodiments to alleviate some or all of these concerns or, at least provide a useful alternative which is appropriate for containers relating to similar applications as those described above.
Disclosure of the Invention
In a first aspect, the invention provides a container having:
- a floor;
- sidewalls generally upstanding from the floor; and
- an opening for receipt of product into the container, the opening being at least partially defined by a rim;
wherein at least one of the sidewalk terminates substantially at the rim while at least one other of the sidewalls has a portion which extends generally upwardly above the rim, the extended portion being adapted to support any product extending above the rim.
Preferably, if the extended portion is sized to span the opening, it has a leading edge which is adapted to meet or overlap the rim without insertion into the opening.
Preferably, the container of the invention is an open topped container of any suitable shape, size or cross section. The container may be square or rectangular in plan view, for example, in which case there will be four sidewalls. It is within the scope of this invention that the container is round or oval or a similar curved shape in plan view, in which case the sidewalls will take the form of arcs.
The floor of the container may be of traditional design, eg, flat. However, it is preferred that the floor has a non-planar shape. It is particularly preferred that the floor is upwardly or downwardly or inwardly or outwardly arched, stepped or contoured, the perimeter of the floor being attached to the or at least one of the upwardly extending sidewalls. In other words, the floor may bulge inwardly or outwardly. There may be one or more drainage holes in the floor.
The sidewalls are generally upstanding compared to the floor. Each sidewall may stand at about 90 degrees to the floor, but it is preferred that the sidewalls are formed so that they taper inwardly towards the floor.
The opening is preferably as large as possible given the shape of the container, so that the rim is at the top of the or each sidewall which is not extended upwardly according to the invention. The rim need not be in a single plane. For example, the rim may include cutouts or other shapes providing vents into the container. In one embodiment, the container includes one or more ventilation channels in or near the rim.
The extended portion is adapted to support any product extending above the rim and is preferably designed and shaped so as to provide a bridge, guide or point of contact for a flexible, over-wrap or wrap-around film, netting, heat scalable, adhesive membrane or similar. If required, the rim and/or an edge or external surface of the or each extended portion may include a surface suitable for receiving or enhancing contact with any such adhesive membrane or other wrapping material as described in this specification or known in the art
The container preferably has four of the sidewalls generally upstanding from the floor, with two of the opposing sidewalls having extended portions extending generally upwardly above the rim, the other two sidewalls terminating at the rim.
However, it is also within the scope of the invention that the container has only one sidewall with an extended portion extending generally upwardly from the rim, all other sidewalls terminating at the rim.
The extended portion may be an extension of substantially all the sidewall, or part only of that sidewall. Where there is more than one extended portion in a container of the invention, the extended portions may be the same, or one may be a mirror of another, or they may be different
Preferably, the or each extended portion has an apex. The apex is preferably located at the top of an arch or another curved shape, which need not be symmetrical..
It is particularly preferred that the each extended portion is folded to form a primary wall and a secondary wall, to add support to the container in protecting any overfill of product The secondary wall may be further folded to provide a return. Examples arc shown below in connection with the drawings.
In one preferred embodiment, the or each extended portion is adapted to be folded, bent or flexed inwards to provide further protection for the container's contents.
thereby minimising any void which may be present in the container, prior to over- wrapping or scaling the extended portion/s in place. Alternately, the extended portion/s may be mechanically secured in a folded, bent or flexed inward configuration. These embodiments are described in more detail below.
It is preferred that the or each extended portion, in the at rest position, extends upwardly above the rim or is biased to that configuration and that force is required to fold, bend or flex inwardly the or each extended portion.
The present invention provides the option of having a floor area which is suitably contoured, upwardly or downwardly curved or stepped, to nestle either above or beside any similar adjacent container when filled and column stacked or, when standing on end in rows. In some embodiments, this contoured, upwardly or downwardly curved, floor shape may be substantially aligned with and complementary to the shape of an extended portion located directly above. In other embodiments, the floor may be upwardly or downwardly projected or contoured so as to saddle over or nestle against a similar container where the extended portion has been folded, bent or flexed inwards and then over-wrapped in order to provide further protection for the container's contents.
In preferred embodiments, the extended portion of the container of the present invention provides flexibility in ultimate pack volume whilst also providing protection of the contents of the container.
In some embodiments, the container may be utilised as manufactured and then simply filled with produce or other contents and wrapped or covered by separate means. Generally, in these instances, the contents will have filled the majority of the container's available void or may protrude beyond the container's rim when filled.
In other instances, the container as formed may be filled with contents and then the or each extended portion may be reorientated, eg. pushed or pulled, towards the
contents by mechanical means or otherwise, generally prior to wrapping, scaling or locking the container. Generally in these instances, the contents will have not have totally filled the container's available void (prior to any rcorientatioπ of the uppermost portion of any sidewall) when filled. This method of closure will thereby eliminate an amount of the container's remaining void prior to wrapping, sealing or locking the container. This method of closure may also offer an amount of added protection to the contents of the container, minimising the possibility of damage to the contents by at least partially covering the contents. In these instances added stability may be attained when stacking similar containers above, below or beside each other, particularly when the container's floor area is shaped or contoured to mate with or nestle against any resulting surface shape or profile created in any adjacent container's adjoining portions.
Any extended portion or related rim may also include mechanical means such as friction fit or plug and socket type latches, by which to lock the extended portion in a reorientated position as described above. Additionally, the reoricntation of any extended portion may be aided by means of a score line or other line of weakness which may be integrally formed in a suitable position situated on the sidewall of these containers where required.
The container of the invention may be made of any suitable material but preferably is a thermoformed, relatively thin plastic material, as is presently known in the art.
Examples of some suitable thermoformable plastic material arc polyvinyl chloride
(PVC), polyethylene terephthalatc (PET), polyactide (PLA) and biaxially orientated polystyrene (BOPS). The container of this invention may be of any desirable shape, however containers of a square or rectangular cross section are likely to be most commonly preferred,
In a second aspect, the invention provides a method of presenting a plurality of the containers of the invention, one of the containers having a first non-planer shape in the floor and another of the containers having a second non-planar shape in the or
each extended portion, the first non-planar shape being complementary to the second non-planar shape, the method including the step of annexing the one container with the other container so that the first non-planar shape of the one container nests with second non-planar shape of the other container.
The method of the invention may be used to present containers of the invention in a vertical column and/or side by side and/or top to bottom on a shelf. The method of the invention can minimise shelf space required to display product in the containers and may also provide a more stable configuration.
Brief Description of the Drawings
The invention will now be described in relation to non-limiting examples thereof in the accompanying drawings, in which:
Figure 1 shows an end elevation of a first embodiment of a container according to the invention, filled with fresh product (mushrooms) and covered with a stretchable, wrap-around film;
Figure 2 shows a side elevation of the container embodiment shown in Figure 1, filled and uncovered as it is being pushed up and into a flattened sheet of stretchable wrapping film during the wrapping process;
Figure 3 shows a side view of a multiple of the container embodiment of Figures 1 and 2 when stacked together on a planar surface and illustrates an embodiment of the method of the invention;
Figure 4 further shows a top view of the container embodiment stacked in multiples as in Figure 3;
Figure 5 shows an end view of a multiple of the container embodiment of Figures 1 and 2 when column stacked;
Figure 6 is an end elevation of a second embodiment of a container according to the invention, having extended portions on two opposing sidewalls, each adapted to act as a partial lid for the container;
Figure 7 shows a similar view of the third embodiment, having a single extended portion sized to substantially span the opening of the container; and
Figure 8 shows the container of Figure 7 with the extended portion closed over the opening.
Detailed Description of the Drawings
Referring to Figures 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, one preferred embodiment of a container of the invention, designated generally as 10, has a floor 12, connected to four sidewails 14, two or which terminate at a rim 16, and two of which have extended portions 18.
As can be seen in Figure 2, extended portions 18 are an upward extension of two opposed sidewails 14 and have an upper arched shape, with an apex 19.
Figure 2 shows over-wrap film 20, suspended above the container 10 (as in an overhead wrapping machine). The container 10 is moved in an upward direction (indicated by the arrows) towards the over-wrap film 20, during the wrapping process. Over-wrap film 20 is wrapped around the container 10, bridging across extended portions 18 and enclosing the contents 22 inside the container 10 (refer Figure 1).
The floor 12 of container 10 has an upwardly, inwardly curved (concave) shape 24 (refer Figures 2 and 4), which nestles over or around the over-wrap film 20 and the contents 22 of any adjacent container 10 (refer Figure 4) when stacked or arranged in multiples (refer Figures 3, 4 and 5). Note that floor 12 could have had the same curved shape but rotated through 90 degrees so that the curve would be visible in the end elevation in Figure 1 , instead of as shown in Figure 2.
As can be seen in Figure 1, the extended portion 18 has been folded so that it includes a primary inner wall 26 and a secondary external wall surface 28, each tapered upwardly and relatively towards the apex 19.
Figure 3 shows a side view of a number of containers 10 with respective floors 12a, 12b and 12c, stacked side by side in a row on shelf 30. Figure 3 also shows how there is inherent nestling of the floors 12a and 12b to each adjacent container top area.
Figure 4 shows a top view of the multiple containers 10 with floors 12a, 12b and 12c, as arranged on shelf 30 in Figure 3. Figure 4 also shows over wrap film 20 substantially in position and surrounding the container 10 having floor 12a, as upwardly and inwardly curved shape 24a of floor 12a nestles into the container 10 having floor 12b.
Figure 5 shows an end view of a vertical column stack of a multiple number of containers 10, with floor 12 saddling over any lower container 10. Although shown here in a different multiple orientation (ie column stacked), this saddling is attained via similar means as shown in Figures 3 and 4 with respect to the upwardly and inwardly curved shape 24 (not shown in Figure 5) of each floor 12 as it meets, or substantially meets, any adjacent container 10.
Reference is now made to Figure 6. In the second embodiment, container 110 has floor 112 and four sidewalls, three of which arc visible, 114a, 114b and 114c. Floor 112 may be contoured inwardly as in the previous embodiment (refer Figure 2).
Container 110 has opening 113 through which product (not shown) may be received. Opening 113 is defined by rim 116 at which wall 114b terminates. There is an identical rim on the wall opposite to wall 114b (not shown). Rim 116 has a curled edge to form a flange, 117.
Opposed sidewalls 1 14a and 114c extend generally upwardly above rim 116: refer primary wall surface 126. The extended portion of each of walls 114a and 114b is then folded at 127 to continue as secondary wall 128. Secondary wall 128 is folded at 129 to form a return, 130.
In Figure 6, the extended portion 126/128/130 of wall 114a is shown in an "open" position. This may be chosen as the "at rest" position. The extended portion of wall 114c is shown in the "closed" position. Extendcd portion 126/128/130 has been pushed or pulled downwardly in the direction shown by arrow 132 and held in that position by a suitable means. Suitable means include an over-wrap or wrap- around film, an adhesive membrane or label and a mechanical lock, such as a friction fit or plug and socket type latch, conveniently coordinating with a complimentary socket or plug in rim 116.
It will be appreciated by one skilled in the art that when both extended portions are in the closed position in this embodiment, there will be a gap between fold points 127. This gap may be desired, for example, for ventilation purposes. Alternately, it can be covered by, for example, an adhesive membrane which can at the same time hold the extended portions in the closed position.
Referring now to the third embodiment in Figures 7 and 8, container 210 in this embodiment has a floor 212. Once again, this floor may be contoured, for example, as shown in connection with the first embodiment.
Container 210 has four sidewalls generally upstanding from floor 212, three of these being invisible in the illustration, namely walls 214a, 214b and 214c.
Container 210 has an opening, 213, partially defined by rim 216. Each of walls 214b and 214c (and the fourth wall, not shown) terminates at rim 216, which includes flange 217.
Wall 214a has an extended portion which extends generally upwardly above rim 216. This extended portion has primary wall 226, which folds at 227 and continues as secondary wall 228. Secondary wall 228 folds at 229 and continues as return 230.
Il will be noted that in this embodiment, extended portion 226/228/230 is sized to span opening 213. However, fold 227 forms a leading edge which, as can be seen in Figure 8, is adapted to meet rim 216 without insertion into opening 213.
It will be noted from Figure 7 that return 230 has a tapered end 232 which corresponds with tapered end 234 on rim 216, to form a notch, This enables extended portion 226/228/230 to be pushed or pulled to span opening 213 without interference. Extended portion 226/228/230 may be held in the closed position shown in Figure 8 in any suitable way, including the closures discussed above in relation to Figure 6.
When the container of the invention is made from a material which can be thermoformed, or which is otherwise drawabic, stretchablc, mouldablc or flowable, when the extended portion of the sidewall is folded as illustrated in the embodiments above, the footprint area of the container of the invention can be minimised for manufacturing purposes. This can have the result that more containers of the invention can be manufactured on standard sized tooling than in the case of prior art containers. More containers may be produced in less time of from loss material and, therefore, at lower cost.
In some of the above instances, particularly where flexible or drawable or stretchable materials arc utilised to manufacture containers of the present invention, it may be desirable to suitably upgrade the gauge, thickness or caliper of the material. Generally, this may be desirable where the container's draw depth is fixed beyond the attainable limits of a lighter, thinner material gauge and cannot be
relieved by moans of sensible design means such as, for example, reshaping the uppermost portions of any extended sidewall portion.
However, even if the material gauge is upgraded, it is likely that the inherent cost savings in increasing the speed of manufacturing the container through minimisation of the container or related sheeted material footprint, as described above, will outweigh any cost associated with any nominal material upgrade.
By way of example, a traditional open topped/unlidded container which was traditionally made from a material gauge of 0.5mm plastic sheet, may have had a footprint (when formed) of 200mm x 100mm and therefore may have only been produced at a rate of 10 units per machine cycle on a machine or tooling with a maximum forming area of 500mm x 400mm. This same 200mm x 100mm footprint may now be used to produce a container of the present invention, which may now include a means to at least partially close the container in use or even fully/substantially close the container. The container of the invention in this example may have a material gauge upgrade to, say, 0.75mm (+ 50%), but can still be produced at a rale of 10 units per machine cycle, including the partial or full closure. By way of comparison, a prior art lidded container, which would require the same 200mm x 100mm footprint for the base of the container, would likely require an "in tool" footprint of 200mm x 200mm when the Hd is taken into account (ie +100% ).
The container of the present invention provides a way for utilising a single container size for a number of different products where each product has a unique density or mass. The container allows filling to a required net weight while minimising any resulting void area and increasing consumer appeal. Improved column stacking stability and on-shelf display of such containers can also be provided by the present invention. A means by which a number of integrally
formed covering means may be provided with the container of the present invention, whilst minimising the footprint area of the sheeted material traditionally required when manufacture traditional covering means is also taught by the present invention. Further, in some instances the invention provides alternative means for providing partial closure for containers for products which are required to be stacked or arranged in multiples, particularly where upper or adjacent containers would otherwise rest, at least indirectly, on product in lower or adjacent containers and excessive product damage is of concern and is required to be minimised.