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Title:
DISPENSER FOR SEMI SPHERICAL FOOD PRODUCTS AND TRAY ASSEMBLY
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2018/044169
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
The invention relates to an in-store self-service dispenser. The dispenser comprises a driven dispensing conveyor. The conveyor comprises a belt provided with a pattern of gripping members, which are dimensioned and grouped such that they in combination, i.e. two gripping members, will convey a cherry tomato along a dispensing trajectory. The gripping members are grouped, for example in pairs, for each pair conveying a single cherry tomato, or in rows, i.e. a combination of pairs, for conveying a row of cherry tomatoes, each tomato of that row being engaged by two gripping members. The gripping members thus provide a discontinuous front for picking up cherry tomatoes to settle relative to each other when engaged.

More Like This:
WO/1993/006032DISPENSING DEVICE
WO/2013/085440DISPENSING DEVICE
WO/1994/014675DISPENSER FOR PASTY MATTER
Inventors:
DE HAAN, Jacco Frederik (78 C2, Noorderhavenkade, 3038 XM ROTTERDAM, NL)
VAN SCHEPPINGEN, Martinus Cornells (61 Verisstraat, 2132 PB HOOFDDORP, 2132 PB HOOFDDORP, NL)
KELLER, Cornells Nicolaas (184 Koninginneweg, 3078 GR ROTTERDAM, 3078 GR ROTTERDAM, NL)
VISKER, Gerardus Arnoldus Petrus (20 Vlasakker, 3235 SZ ROCKANJE, 3235 SZ ROCKANJE, NL)
VAN ANTWERPEN, Philip (74 Cornells Zillesen laan, 1086 ZK AMSTERDAM, 1086 ZK AMSTERDAM, NL)
VERBRUGGE, Jeroen Klaasjan (70 Schelpweg, 3151 VJ HOEK VAN HOLLAND, 3151 VJ HOEK VAN HOLLAND, NL)
Application Number:
NL2017/050577
Publication Date:
March 08, 2018
Filing Date:
August 31, 2017
Export Citation:
Click for automatic bibliography generation   Help
Assignee:
HARVEST HOUSE B.V. (415 Honderdland, 2676 LV Maasdijk, 2676 LV Maasdijk, NL)
International Classes:
A47F1/03; A47F1/08; B65D5/00; B65D5/20; B65D5/72; B65D51/00; G01F13/00; A47F3/14; G07F11/44
Domestic Patent References:
WO2015021533A12015-02-19
WO2015101858A12015-07-09
WO2015101858A12015-07-09
Foreign References:
US4060111A1977-11-29
EP2902979A12015-08-05
NL8403253A1985-05-17
NL7313823A1974-04-16
US6808092B22004-10-26
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
HOLLANDER, M.W. (EP&C P.O. Box 3241, 2280 GE Rijswijk, NL)
Download PDF:
Claims:
C L A I M S

1. In-store self-service dispenser to be operated by consumers, for dispensing cherry tomatoes and similar semi spherical food products, the dispenser comprising:

- a hopper, for holding multiple cherry tomatoes;

- a feeder plate;

- a driven dispensing conveyor, for dispensing the cherry tomatoes;

- an actuator, for actuating the driven dispensing conveyor;

- a chute, for guiding dispensed cherry tomatoes into a receptacle;

- a housing, which housing supports the hopper, the feeder plate, the driven dispensing conveyor; the actuator and the chute; wherein the hopper, the feeder plate, the dispensing conveyor and the chute define a dispensing trajectory, the dispensing trajectory extending from the hopper to the chute, via the feeder plate and the dispensing conveyor, for transporting the cherry tomatoes from the hopper to the chute, wherein the hopper is open at a bottom end for feeding the cherry tomatoes, along the dispensing trajectory, to the feeder plate, wherein the feeder plate is inclined downwards in a direction towards the dispensing conveyor, to gravity feed the cherry tomatoes along the dispensing trajectory towards the dispensing conveyor, wherein the feeder plate and the dispensing conveyor join at a transfer zone, from which transfer zone the dispensing conveyor picks up cherry tomatoes presented by the feeder plate, wherein the dispensing conveyor comprises a conveyor belt, which conveyor belt extends along the dispensing trajectory from a pick up end towards a dispensing end, at which dispensing end the cherry tomatoes are dropped from the conveyor belt into the chute, wherein the conveyor belt has a support surface for supporting the cherry tomatoes, and on said support surface is provided with a pattern of gripping members, which gripping members are dimensioned and distributed over the support surface for, in combination, entailing the cherry tomatoes supported on the support surface into a dispensing direction along the dispensing trajectory, and wherein the actuator is provided with an interface that enables a consumer to actuate the driven dispenser, i.e. to drive the conveyor belt of the dispensing conveyor, and to thus dispense the cherry tomatoes.

2. Dispenser according to claim 1 , wherein in a first direction perpendicular to the dispensing direction, the gripping members are interspaced relative to each other such that cherry tomatoes can pass between them, and in a second direction at an angle to the first direction, are interspaced relative to each other such that the gripping members, in combination, entail cherry tomatoes. 3. Dispenser according to claim 2, wherein the gripping members are grouped in rows, the rows extending at an angle to the dispensing direction, to transport rows of cherry tomatoes said rows of cherry tomatoes extending at an angle to the dispensing direction.

4. Dispenser according to one or more of the preceding claims, wherein the dispensing conveyor is inclined upwards in a direction away from the transfer zone, such that it blocks a stream of cherry tomatoes presented by the feeder plate, preferably forms a barrier having a height for blocking two layers of cherry tomatoes.

5. Dispenser according to one or more of the preceding claims, wherein the support surface of the conveyor belt extending along the dispensing direction and the feeder plate enclose a transfer angle, in a plane parallel to the dispensing direction, which transfer angle is at least 150 degrees, preferably is at least 160 degrees and is at most 170 degrees.

6. Dispenser according to one or more of the preceding claims, wherein the feeder plate meets the conveyor at a curved surface of a return roll.

7. Dispenser according to one or more of the preceding claims, wherein the feeder plate is a driven feeder plate, preferably is driven by a return roll of the dispensing conveyor, to promote the flow of products onto the dispensing conveyor.

8. Dispenser according to one or more of the preceding claims, wherein the feeder plate, at an end located at the transfer zone, has a transfer edge located adjacent the support surface of the conveyor belt of the dispensing conveyer, which transfer edge is provided with multiple setbacks for passing through the gripping members.

9. Dispenser according to one or more of the preceding claims, wherein, above the transfer 5 zone and substantially perpendicular to the dispensing direction, a flexible skimmer sheet is provided, to reduce the layers of products, preferably provide a single layer of products to the dispensing conveyor at the transfer zone.

10. Dispenser according to one or more of the preceding claims, wherein the driven

10 dispensing conveyor is configured as a removable unit, which unit is removable mounted in the housing, and is connected to the actuator via a releasable connection, to enable temporarily removal for cleaning purposes and/or replacement.

11. Dispenser according to one or more of the preceding claims, wherein the housing 15 comprises a bottom compartment and a top compartment, wherein the top compartment comprises the hopper, and the bottom compartment comprises the feeder plate, the driven dispensing conveyor and the chute, and wherein the bottom compartment supports the top compartment such that the top compartment can be removed to provide access to the driven dispensing conveyor.

20

12. Dispenser according to one or more of the preceding claims, wherein the gripping members have a diameter smaller than the diameter of typical cherry tomatoes, for example having a diameter smaller than 1 ,5 cm.

25 13. Dispenser according to one or more of the preceding claims, wherein a return roll of the conveyor belt located at the transfer zone has a diameter of at least 4 cm and at most 6 cm.

14. Dispenser according to one or more of the preceding claims, wherein a return roll of the conveyor belt located at the dispensing zone, has a diameter of at least 4 cm and at most 6

30 cm.

15. Method for providing consumers with cherry tomatoes, said method comprising:

- providing a dispenser according to one or more of the preceding claims,

- filling the hopper of the dispenser with cherry tomatoes.

35

16. A tray assembly 1 comprising a stackable tray 2 and a slide 3,

wherein the stackable tray 2 comprises: a bottom panel 21 with a substantially rectangular circumferential edge 4; a pair of first side panels 22, 23, arranged opposite of each other, and a pair of second side panels 24, 25, arranged opposite of each other, wherein the first pair of side panels 22, 23 and the second pair of side panels 24, 25 each 5 adjoin the circumferential edge 4 of the bottom panel 21 ;

wherein corners 5a, 5b, 5c, 5d of the tray 2 are formed by adjoining side panels of the first pair of side panels 22, 23 and the second pair of side panels 24, 25, respectively, the tray 2 having a substantially rectangular outer circumference and an interior space 6 defined by said side panels 22, 23, 24, 10 25 and said bottom panel 21 , the interior space 6 being arranged to store products, preferably agricultural products; and

wherein the bottom panel 21 of the tray 2 comprises a dispensing opening 7, wherein the slide 3 comprises:

a cover portion 31 configured to substantially cover said dispensing opening 7; 15 and

a grip 32 for manipulating the slide 3, i.e. for moving the slide 3 between a first slide position P1 and a second slide position P2;

wherein the slide 3 is arranged near the bottom panel 21 of the tray 2; and wherein the dispensing opening 7 is substantially covered when the slide 3 is 20 arranged in said first slide position P1 , and wherein the dispensing opening 7 is at least partially uncovered when the slide 3 is arranged in said second slide position P2, allowing products to be dispensed from the interior space 6 of the tray 2, through the dispensing opening 7 in the bottom panel 21 of the tray 2, out of the tray 2.

25 17. Tray assembly according to claim 16, wherein one of the side panels 22, 23, 24, 25

comprises a first passage 8, wherein the cover portion 31 of the slide 3 is arranged inside the interior 6 of the tray 2 on the bottom panel 21 thereof, and wherein said grip 32 at least partially extends from the interior 6 of the tray, through the first passage 8 in the side panel 22, 23, 24, 25, out of the tray 2 when the slide 3 is in said first slide position PL

30

18. Tray assembly according to claim 17, wherein the cover portion 31 and the grip 33 are separated by a grip hinge section 34, allowing the grip 33 to be folded parallel and adjacent to said side panel 22, 23, 24, 25 of the tray 2 when the slide 3 is in said first slide position P1.

35 19. Tray assembly according to claim 18, wherein the grip 32 comprises a main part 32a and a tip part 32b, separated by a tip hinge section 35, and wherein said grip hinge section 34 and said tip part hinge section 35 enable the tip part 32b to be folded relative to the main part 32a in a position parallel to the cover portion 31 ; and wherein said panel 22, 23, 24, 25 comprises a securing opening 9, for receiving the tip part 32b, when the slide 3 is in the first slide position P1.

5 20. Tray assembly according to any of the preceding claims 19-19, wherein the cover portion 31 has a width Wc similar to a width Wb of the bottom panel 21 , and wherein the cover portion 31 abuts with opposite edges against a left side panel 22 and a right side panel 23 of the tray 2.

10 21. Tray assembly according to any of the claims 17 - 20, wherein the cover portion 31 has a width Wc that is wider than said first passage 8.

22. Tray assembly according to any of the preceding claims 16 - 21 , wherein the cover portion 31 has a front 31 b and a rear 31a, wherein the grip 32 is located at the front 31 b of

15 the cover portion 31 , and the cover portion 31 has a rear edge at the rear 31a, which rear edge abuts a rear panel 25 of the tray 2, when the slide 3 is in the first position PL

23. Tray assembly according to any of the preceding claims 16 - 22, wherein the cover portion 31 has one or more tabs 36 at the rear 31a, which tabs 36 are received in

20 corresponding apertures 26 provided in the rear panel 25 or between the rear panel 25 and the bottom panel 21 when the slide 3 is in the first position PL

24. Tray assembly according to any of the preceding claims 16 - 23, wherein the cover portion 31 comprises a cut out 37, preferably along the rear edge of the cover portion 31 ,

25 which cut out 37 at least partially overlaps with the dispensing opening 7 when the slide 3 is in the second position P2.

25. Tray assembly according to any of the preceding claims 16 - 24, wherein the tray 2 is provided with a cover panel, e.g. in the form of an inlay, which cover panel comprises a

30 dispensing opening concentric with the dispensing opening 7 in the bottom panel 21 , and which cover panel is located on top of the slide 3.

26. Tray assembly according to claim 25, wherein the cover panel comprises one or more sections that extend at an angle with the bottom panel 21.

35

27. Tray assembly according to any of the preceding claims 16 - 26, wherein the bottom panel 21 of the tray 2 is substantially flat.

28. Tray assembly according to any of the preceding claims 16 - 27, wherein said cover portion 31 has dimensions that are larger than the dimensions of said dispensing opening 7.

29. Tray assembly according to any of the preceding claims 16 - 28, wherein the tray 2 has a length Lt, a width Wt and a height Ht, and wherein the length Lt is larger than the width Wt, and the width Wt is larger than the height Ht.

30. Tray assembly according to any of the preceding claims 16 - 29, wherein the tray 2 is provided with reinforced corners 5a, 5b, 5c, 5d, for supporting an additional tray that is filled with products stacked on top of it.

31. Tray assembly according to any of the preceding claims 16 - 30, wherein the dispensing opening 7 has an elongated shape, and wherein the dispensing opening 7 has a longitudinal axis A that extends in a direction parallel to the left side panel 22 and the right side wall 23.

32. Tray assembly according to any of the preceding claims 16 - 31 , wherein the dispensing opening 7 is located at the centre of the bottom panel 21.

33. Tray assembly according to any of the preceding claims 16 - 32, wherein the maximum inner height Ht of the tray 2 is between 60 mm and 120 mm, and/or wherein the maximum inner width Wt of the tray 2 is between 200 mm and 500 mm, and/or wherein the maximum inner length Lt of the tray 2 is between 300 mm and 600 mm.

34. Tray assembly according to any of the preceding claims 16 - 33, wherein the tray 2 and/or the slide 3 are folded out of a flat panel material, for example a cardboard blank.

35. A blank 102 for folding a tray 2 according to one or more of the preceding claims 16 - 34.

36. A blank 103 for folding a slide 3 according to one or more of the preceding claims 16 - 34.

37. A system comprising a tray assembly according to one of the claims 16 - 34, and an in- store self-service dispenser to be operated by consumers, for dispensing food products, preferably agricultural food products, for example cherry tomatoes and similar semi spherical food products,

wherein the dispenser comprises a filling opening for receiving products to be dispensed, and wherein the dispenser is configured to support the tray with the dispensing opening of the tray aligned with the filling opening of the dispenser, to enable products to be dispensed from the interior space of the tray via the dispensing opening and, preferably directly, into the dispenser via the filling opening.

38. A system according to claim 37, wherein the dispenser comprises a hopper, the hopper having a filling opening at its top, and wherein the dispenser, preferably the hopper of the dispenser, is configured for supporting the tray with its dispensing opening above the filling opening of the hopper.

39. System according to claim 37, the dispenser comprising:

- a hopper, for holding agricultural food products, preferably semi spherical food products, for example multiple cherry tomatoes;

- a feeder plate;

- a driven dispensing conveyor, for dispensing the food products, e.g. the cherry tomatoes;

- an actuator, for actuating the driven dispensing conveyor;

- a chute, for guiding dispensed the food products, e.g. the cherry tomatoes into a receptacle;

- a housing, which housing supports the hopper, the feeder plate, the driven dispensing conveyor; the actuator and the chute;

wherein the hopper, the feeder plate, the dispensing conveyor and the chute define a dispensing trajectory, the dispensing trajectory extending from the hopper to the chute, via the feeder surface and the dispensing conveyor, for transporting the food products, e.g. the cherry tomatoes from the hopper to the chute,

wherein the hopper has a filling opening at its top, and is configured for supporting the tray with its dispensing opening aligned with and above that filling opening for the transfer of the food products, e.g. the cherry tomatoes from the tray into the hopper, and

wherein the hopper is open at a bottom end for feeding the food products, e.g. the cherry tomatoes, along the dispensing trajectory, to the feeder plate,

wherein the feeder plate is inclined downwards in a direction towards the dispensing conveyor, to gravity feed the food products, e.g. the cherry tomatoes along the dispensing trajectory towards the dispensing conveyor,

wherein the feeder plate and the dispensing conveyor join at a transfer zone, from which transfer zone the dispensing conveyor picks up the food products, e.g. the cherry tomatoes presented by the feeder plate,

wherein the dispensing conveyor comprises a conveyor belt, which conveyor belt extends along the dispensing trajectory from a pick up end towards a dispensing end, at which dispensing end the food products, e.g. the cherry tomatoes are dropped from the conveyor belt into the chute, wherein the conveyor belt has a support surface for supporting the food products, e.g. the cherry tomatoes, and on said support surface is provided with a pattern of gripping members,

which gripping members are dimensioned and distributed over the support surface for, 5 in combination, entailing the food products, e.g. the cherry tomatoes supported on the support surface into the dispensing direction along the dispensing trajectory, and

wherein the actuator is provided with an interface that enables a consumer to actuate the driven dispenser, i.e. to drive the conveyor belt of the dispensing conveyor, and to thus dispense the food products, e.g. the cherry tomatoes.

10

40. System according to one or more of the claims claim 37 - 39, wherein the hopper and the tray assembly comprise coupling devices, e.g. positioning ribs, slots, and/or corresponding tabs, which coupling devices engage each other when the tray is mounted on top of the hopper to position and preferably secure the tray with the dispensing opening aligned with the

15 filling opening of the dispenser.

41. Method for dispensing agricultural food products, preferably tomatoes, more preferably cherry tomatoes, wherein use is made of a system according to one or more of the claim 37 - 40, the method comprising the steps of:

20 - positioning the tray 2, at least partially filled with products, on top of the dispenser;

- moving the slide 3 from the first slide position P1 towards the second slide position P2; and

- transferring products from the interior space of the tray via the dispensing opening in the bottom panel into the dispenser, preferably into a hopper of the dispenser.

25 42. Method according to claim 41 , the method further comprising the steps of:

- filling the tray with agricultural products, e.g. the cherry tomatoes, preferably at a location distant from the dispenser; and

- transporting the tray with cherry tomatoes to the dispenser, preferably by way of road travel.

30 43. Use of tray assembly according to one or more of the claims 16 - 34 for distributing

agricultural products, preferably cherry tomatoes, preferably in combination with a dispenser device, e.g. as part of a system according to one or more of the claims 37 - 40.

Description:
Dispenser for semi spherical food products and tray assembly According to a first aspect, the invention relates to an in-store self-service dispenser to be operated by consumers, for dispensing cherry tomatoes and similar semi spherical food products.

Self-service dispensers for dispensing cherry tomatoes are known from the prior art. For example, WO2015101858 discloses such a dispenser. These known dispensers employ a drum having slots in its outer circumference for picking up products and dispensing them.

It is submitted that the prior art dispensers have several drawbacks. For example, to pick up products, the slots need to be held in a filling position for some time, and/or should be moved slowly through said filling position, to enable the slot to be filled with products. Therefore, the drums are held and/or rotated slowly, which in turn slows down the dispensing process. Also, this type of dispensers dispenses metered portions, the portion being defined by the amount of product held in the slot. The drum is to be rotated until a slot passes the dispensing position, in which dispensing position the products fall from the slot. If the consumer wants more products, the drum needs to be rotated further until a subsequent slot is moved into the dispensing position and a subsequent portion of products is provided. Thus, this type of dispensers is configured to provide a cascaded flow of products, i.e. provides products in steps of or example ten products with each slot. Such a flow limits the consumer in metering a portion to his own liking.

Furthermore, the prior art drum type dispensers are rather bulky. Providing a drum with multiple cavities or slots, for each receiving multiple products, requires the drum to have diameter substantially larger than the diameter of products to be dispensed. Also, when many slots are to be provided, a large diameter drum is required which in turn leads to a large dispenser (or a dispenser which can only hold a small amount of products). This is a drawback because, especially in retail environment, space is an expensive commodity. Thus, a bulky device will be less likely to be located in a store, in particular at a prime location. It is an object of the first aspect of the invention to provide an improved dispenser. In particular it is an object of the first aspect of the invention to provide an in-store self-service dispenser in which the above mentioned drawbacks are eliminated altogether or occur in a greatly reduced extent.

Therefore, according to a first aspect the invention provides an in-store self-service dispenser to be operated by consumers, for dispensing cherry tomatoes and similar semi spherical food products, according to claim 1.

An in-store self-service dispenser according to the first aspect of the invention comprises: - a hopper, for holding multiple cherry tomatoes;

- a feeder plate;

- a driven dispensing conveyor, for dispensing the tomatoes;

- an actuator, for actuating the driven dispensing conveyor;

- a chute, for guiding dispensed cherry tomatoes into a receptacle;

- a housing, which housing supports the hopper, the feeder plate, the driven dispensing conveyor; the actuator and the chute; wherein the hopper, the feeder plate, the dispensing conveyor and the chute define a dispensing trajectory, the dispensing trajectory extending from the hopper to the chute, via the feeder plate and the dispensing conveyor, for transporting the cherry tomatoes from the hopper to the chute, wherein the hopper is open at a bottom end for feeding the cherry tomatoes, along the dispensing trajectory, to the feeder plate, wherein the feeder plate is inclined downwards in a direction towards the dispensing conveyor, to gravity feed the cherry tomatoes along the dispensing trajectory towards the dispensing conveyor, wherein the feeder plate and the dispensing conveyor join at a transfer zone, from which transfer zone the dispensing conveyor picks up cherry tomatoes presented by the feeder plate, wherein the dispensing conveyor comprises a conveyor belt, which conveyor belt extends along the dispensing trajectory from a pick up end towards a dispensing end, at which dispensing end the cherry tomatoes are dropped from the conveyor belt into the chute, wherein the conveyor belt has a support surface for supporting the cherry tomatoes, and on said support surface is provided with a pattern of gripping members, which gripping members are dimensioned and distributed over the support surface for, in combination, entailing the cherry tomatoes supported on the support surface, and entail the cherry tomatoes into the dispensing direction along the dispensing trajectory, and wherein the actuator is provided with an interface that enables a consumer to actuate the driven dispenser, i.e. to drive the conveyor belt of the dispensing conveyor, and to thus dispense the cherry tomatoes.

According to the first aspect of the invention, the dispenser comprises a driven dispensing conveyor, comprising a conveyor belt, for dispensing the tomatoes. The conveyor belt is provided with a pattern of gripping members, which gripping members are dimensioned and grouped such that in combination, i.e. two gripping members, they will entail a cherry tomato along the dispensing trajectory. The gripping members are thus grouped for example in pairs, for each pair entailing a single cherry tomato, or in rows, i.e. a combination of pairs, for entailing a row of cherry tomatoes, each tomato of that row being engaged by two gripping members.

Thus, with a dispenser according to the first aspect of the invention, the dispenser device has no continuous front, i.e. does not employ a single continuous wall or surface that engages a full row of cherry tomatoes at once. The gripping members provide a discontinuous front that allows the cherry tomatoes to settle relative to each other when engaged. Furthermore, the discontinuous front of gripping members more delicately engages the cherry tomatoes when passing through the transfer zone for engaging the cherry tomatoes.

According to the first aspect of the invention, the conveyor belt of the dispensing conveyor extends along the dispensing trajectory, and thus provides a support surface for supporting a layer of cherry tomatoes. The gripping members are provided on the conveyor belt to entail cherry tomatoes supported on the support surface along the dispensing trajectory, from the transfer zone to the dispensing zone.

It is submitted that he diameter of the return rolls of the conveyor is not linked to the dimension and number of the gripping members, and to the pattern in which they are provided. Providing a conveyor belt thus allows for a compact dispenser, more in particular allows for a compact dispenser that is capable of transporting multiple rows of cherry tomatoes.

Furthermore the dispensing conveyor thus allows the chute to be located below the dispensing conveyor, in particular a small diameter return roll allows for locating the chute below the conveyor for receiving cherry tomatoes dropped from the conveyor over a limited drop height. Prior art drums require a chute to be located adjacent the wheel, to prevent a large drop height for the cherry tomatoes being dispensed, which creates a gap between chute and drum and may get the tomatoes jammed between the chute and the drum. The dispensing conveyor according to the first aspect of the invention thus is especially beneficial for dispensing delicate cherry tomatoes.

In an embodiment, side walls are provided along the conveyor to prevent cherry tomatoes from sliding off the conveyor belt sideways. In an embodiment, in addition to or instead of the side walls, rows of gripping members are provided along the sides of the conveyor belt.

These rows of gripping members do not function as a support for entailing cherry tomatoes in the dispensing direction, but act as stops to prevent cherry tomatoes from rolling from the conveyor sideways and/or from sliding along a wall surface along the belt. In an embodiment, the dispensing conveyor, or at least the support surface of the conveyor belt extending along the dispensing trajectory, is inclined upward in a direction towards the chute, such that the substantially spherical cherry tomatoes supported on the support surface intend to roll backwards, i.e. towards the transfer zone and contrary to the dispensing direction, and are thus positioned against the gripping members entailing the cherry tomatoes in the dispensing direction.

In an embodiment, the gripping members are distributed over the support surface such that in a first direction perpendicular to the dispensing direction, the gripping members are interspaced relative to each other such that cherry tomatoes can pass between them, and in a second direction at an angle to the first direction, are interspaced relative to each other such that the gripping members, in combination, entail cherry tomatoes.

In a further embodiment, the gripping members are furthermore grouped in rows, i.e. a combination of pairs, the rows extending at an angle to the dispensing direction, to transport rows of cherry tomatoes, said rows of cherry tomatoes extending at an angle to the dispensing direction. Thus, in these embodiments, the gripping members are provided in pairs or rows extending at an angle to the dispensing direction, i.e. a line connecting the two or more gripping members grouped for entailing a product, e.g. a cherry tomato, would extend at an angle to the dispensing direction. The gripping members are interspaced along that line such that in combination, i.e. a pair of gripping members, they will engage and support the product, and thus support the product against movement contrary to the dispensing direction and in a direction perpendicular to the dispensing direction. The gripping members thus stabilise individual cherry tomatoes in three directions. For example, a row of five gripping members, said row extending at an angle to the dispensing direction of 50 degrees, would allow the gripping members to support four cherry tomatoes between them, the row of cherry tomatoes extending at the 50 degree angle to the dispensing direction. Because the pairs or rows of gripping members extend at an angle to the dispensing direction, the angle with the dispensing direction being smaller than 90 degrees, preferably being smaller than 80 degrees, the cherry tomatoes of such a row are not dispensed all at once but one after the other. Furthermore, if the gripping members are grouped to entail the cherry tomatoes adjacent each other, a substantially continuous flow of cherry tomatoes can be dispensed by a single row of gripping members.

The substantially continuous flow of cherry tomatoes enables the consumer to better meter his /her portion. Furthermore, by arranging the gripping members in overlapping rows, such that the rows overlap each other when seen in a direction perpendicular to the dispensing direction, multiple parallel rows of cherry tomatoes can be transported in the dispensing direction at once. Also, when the conveyor belt is provided with such overlapping rows, multiple rows are dispensed at once, each one product at the time, at the dispensing end of the conveyor.

In such an embodiment, the overlapping rows can be staggered relative to each other, such that not all rows dispense a product at the same moment.

Also, in such a configuration, the product are not picked up at the transfer zone one row at the time, but product by product for each row. This creates a more continuous flow of cherry tomatoes in the transfer zone as well, which reduces the impact on the cherry tomatoes in the product flow. In a further embodiment, the gripping members are arranged in parallel rows as mentioned above, i.e. the rows extend at an angle to the dispensing direction and the interspacing of the gripping members relative to each other is such that they, in combination, entail cherry tomatoes, the rows of gripping members do not extend up to the side of the conveyor.

Instead, the rows of gripping members leave a space between the inclined row and the side of the transport conveyor, at least at the downstream end of the row, which space is large enough for cherry tomatoes to pass through. By providing such a passage at the upstream end of a row of gripping members, it is prevented that cherry tomatoes accumulate in a corner area where the inclined row would meet the side of the conveyor.

In a further embodiment, the gripping members are arranged in rows as mentioned above, i.e. the rows extend at an angle to the dispensing direction and the interspacing of the gripping members relative to each other is such that they, in combination, entail cherry tomatoes, the subsequent rows of gripping members are not parallel. Instead, they extend at an opposite angle relative to the dispensing direction. In such an embodiment, two subsequent rows of gripping members are mirrored relative to a plane of symmetry extending at the centre of the conveyor belt. Such a configuration is useful when the cherry tomatoes to be picked up in the transfer zone have a tendency to be moved by the row of gripping members towards a side of the transfer zone. Since subsequent rows of gripping members are inclined, relative to the transport direction, at opposite angles, the cherry tomatoes are moved to one side by a first row of gripping members and to the opposite side by the subsequent row of gripping members. Thus, it is prevented that cherry tomatoes accumulate at one side of the transfer zone.

In the transfer zone, the cherry tomatoes are collected prior to being dispensed. The feeder plate feeds products into the transfer zone, the dispensing conveyor, when driven, moves products out of the transfer zone. The flow of products provided by the feeder plate may consists of stacked products, i.e. multiple layers of products on top of each other, while the conveyor belt of the dispensing conveyor preferably dispenses a single layer of products.

It is noted that in an embodiment, the transfer zone, i.e. the zone where the products to be dispensed are collected and may still be stacked onto each other, may overlap with the conveyor belt of the dispensing conveyor. In such an embodiment, the conveyor may be set at an angle and/or a skimmer may be provided above the conveyor belt to reduce the flow of products to a single layer and prevent products from being dispensed by the dispensing conveyor stacked one upon the other. In an embodiment, the dispensing conveyor, or at least the support surface of the conveyor belt extending along the dispensing trajectory, is inclined upwards in a direction away from the transfer zone, such that it blocks the stream of cherry tomatoes presented by the feeder plate, preferably forms a barrier having a height for blocking two layers of cherry tomatoes. Thus, the conveyor acts as a barrier that prevents cherry tomatoes from prematurely moving from the transfer zone. This is in particular beneficial when the feeder plate is configured to feed the cherry tomatoes into the transfer zone by way of gravity only. In a further embodiment, the support surface of the conveyor belt extending along the dispensing direction and the feeder plate enclose a transfer angle in a plane parallel to the dispensing direction, which transfer angle is at least 150 degrees, preferably is at least 160 degrees and is at most 170 degrees.

Thus, the conveyor and the feeder plate together create a basin at the transfer zone, for collecting the cherry tomatoes to be dispensed. The inclined feeder plate securing a flow of cherry tomatoes into the transfer zone, while the inclined conveyor prevents the cherry tomatoes form exiting the transfer zone when the conveyor is not driven.

In an embodiment, the feeder plate has a length, extending in the dispensing direction, of multiple cherry tomatoes, preferably of at least seven cherry tomatoes, to provide an optimal stream of cherry tomatoes to the dispensing conveyor.

In an embodiment, the feeder plate meets the conveyor at the curved surface of a return roll, more in particular the curved surface created by the conveyor belt extending over the return roll. In such an embodiment, the return roll provides a barrier, preventing the product to slide directly from the feeder plate onto the support surface. Thus, in such an embodiment, the conveyor, or more in particular the support surface of the conveyor belt extending along the dispensing trajectory, can extend at a shallow angle relative to the horizontal without the risk of cherry tomatoes sliding onto that support surface

Furthermore, when the curvature of the return roll passes through the transfer zone, the gripping members that pass through the transfer zone, due to the conveyor belt being "bent" by the curvature of the return roll, open up, i.e. move away from each other, to thus facilitate transfer of the cherry tomatoes onto the support surface of the conveyor.

When the gripping members pass the return roll, the curvature of the of the return roll makes the outer ends of the gripping members move away from each other, thus opening up the space between them to further facilitate cherry tomatoes to be received between them. This reduces the "filling time" compared to slots of the drum based dispensers, i.e. the time required for the dispenser to pick up cherry tomatoes.

In an embodiment, the feeder plate is a driven feeder plate to promote the flow of cherry tomatoes onto the dispensing conveyor. In such an embodiment, the feeder plate is driven such that it vibrates, the vibrations of the plate promoting the flow of cherry tomatoes towards and/or onto the dispensing conveyor.

Thus, in such an embodiment, the feeder plate can extend at a shallow angle relative to the horizontal without the risk of cherry tomatoes not being moved into the transfer zone and onto the conveyor belt. The reduced angle furthermore reduces the pressure the flow of cherry tomatoes exerts on the cherry tomatoes accumulated in the transfer zone, which in turn reduces chances of the cherry tomatoes getting damaged. In a preferred embodiment, the feeder plate is hingeable supported at an end away from the transfer zone, and is supported by a vibration generating device at an end located at the transfer zone. In an alternative embodiment, the feeder plate is a flexible plate, which is fixed at an end away from the transfer zone, and is supported by a vibration generating device at an end located at the transfer zone. In both embodiments, the feeder pate is driven by a vibration device located near or at the transfer zone and configured to lift and drop the end of the feeder plate located at the transfer zone, to thus shudder the feeder plate, the vibrations thus generated promoting the flow of cherry tomatoes along the inclined feeder plate surface.

In a further preferred embodiment, the feeder plate is driven by a return roll of the dispensing conveyor. In such an embodiment the return roll functions as the vibration device, and the actuation of the dispensing conveyor is directly coupled with the actuation of the feeder device. In a highly advantageous embodiment, the return roll of the conveyor is provided with gears at each end, and the feeder plate is at corresponding opposite sides provided with ends that rest on those gears. Thus when the conveyor is driven, the gears rotate, thus continuously lifting and dropping the ends of the feeder plate resting on those gears, thus shuddering the feeder plate. Thus, a dispenser is provided in an efficient way with a driven feeder plate, the actuation of which is directly linked to the actuation of the dispensing conveyor, and thus to the actuation by the consumer. Furthermore, in an embodiment in which the dispensing conveyor is configured as a removable unit, a configuration in which the feeder plate rests on gears provided at the ends of the return roll allows for an efficient way to couple and uncouple the feeder plate with the removable unit, i.e. by simply lifting (uncouple) the feeder plate from the gears, or lowering the feeder plate onto the gears (coupling).

In an embodiment, the feeder plate, at an end located at the transfer zone, has a transfer edge located adjacent the support surface of the conveyor belt of the dispensing conveyer, which transfer edge is provided with multiple setbacks for passing through the gripping members. When providing the conveyor with interspaced gripping members, providing a discontinuous front extending along the width of the conveyor, the connection of the feeder plate to the conveyor can thus be improved. By providing the feeder plate with setbacks that allow the gripping members to pass the feeder plate, sections of the feeder plate located between the setbacks can extend up to the support surface of the conveyor track. A gap between the feeder plate and the conveyor, extending along the full width of the conveyor, can thus be prevented. Thus, the feeder plate better connects with the conveyor, and the chance of cherry tomatoes getting stuck and/or are bruised in a gap between the feeder plate and the conveyor is reduced. Such an embodiment is therefore in particular beneficial for dispensing delicate food products.

In such an embodiment, certain areas of the support surface of the conveyor belt are kept free from gripping members. These gripping member free areas extend in the dispensing direction. At these gripping member free area's the feeder plate can extend up to the support surface of the conveyor belt.

In an embodiment, in addition or instead, the chute, more in particular a product support surface of the chute, is provided with such a transfer edge adjacent the dispensing conveyor.

In an embodiment, above the transfer zone and substantially perpendicular to the dispensing direction, a flexible skimmer sheet is provided, to reduce stacked layers of cherry tomatoes, preferably provide a single layer of cherry tomatoes to the dispensing conveyor at the transfer zone.

Typically, the skimmer sheet extends substantially perpendicular to the dispensing direction, such that it defines a passage between a lower end of the skimmer sheet and the support surface of the conveyor, which passage is dimensioned to allow only a single layer of cherry tomatoes to pass through. The skimmer sheet is flexible such that in case of stacked cherry tomatoes passing through the passage, the skimmer sheet flexes and pushes the cherry tomatoes into a downward direction, i.e. towards the support surface of the conveyor, rather than simply blocking passage of the cherry tomatoes. Thus, the chance of cherry tomatoes getting damaged by the skimmer is reduced.

In an embodiment, the skimmer is a flexible skimmer sheet, made of a flexible sheet of plastic material, for example a flexible plastic or rubber, and is at an end away from the dispensing conveyor, supported by the housing of the dispenser.

In addition, the skimmer sheet may be cut such, that it comprises multiple parallel flaps that each may flex individually in a direction parallel to the dispensing direction.

A flexible skimmer sheet is in particular beneficial when delicate products, such as cherry tomatoes are to be dispensed.

In an alternative embodiment, the skimmer may be embodied in the form of a hinged plate, said plate being hinged at a side away from the dispensing conveyor, and being hinged about an axis parallel to the support surface of the conveyor and perpendicular to the dispensing direction. Thus, the plate can pivot in the dispensing direction. In such an embodiment, the skimmer plate is biased into a skimming position, in which the opening between the skimmer plate and the support surface of the conveyor is minimal. Such a skimmer plate functions in a way similar as discussed above with respect to the flexible skimmer sheet.

In an embodiment, the actuator for driving the dispensing conveyor is configured for manually driving the dispensing conveyor. In such an embodiment, the interface that enables a consumer to actuate the driven dispenser to drive the conveyor belt can be provided for example in the form of a handle which, when pulled, moves the conveyor over a certain distance, or as a wheel that is to be rotated by the consumer to drive the conveyor belt, etc.

In an embodiment, the actuator for driving the dispensing conveyor comprises a motor, e.g. an electrical motor, for driving the dispensing conveyor. In such an embodiment, the interface of the actuator can be provided in the form of for example a switch or push button.

Also, the interface may be provided with a pay system, configured to drive the conveyor over a certain system after a certain amount has been paid. In an alternative embodiment, the pay system allows the consumer to actuate the driven dispensing conveyor over a certain distance or during a certain interval. In an embodiment, the driven dispensing conveyor is configured as a removable unit, which unit is removable mounted in the housing, and is connected to the actuator via a releasable connection, to enable temporarily removal for cleaning purposes and/or replacement. In yet another embodiment, the connector is part of the removable unit and both can be removed, preferably in combination, from the housing.

In such embodiments, the driven dispensing conveyor comprises a conveyor belt, return rolls and at least part of a device for driving the dispensing conveyor, or at least a connector for connecting the driven dispensing conveyor with a device for driving the dispenser. The driven dispensing conveyor can thus be removed from the housing as a single unit, i.e. without the need of being disassembled.

In a preferred embodiment, the components of the removable unit, e.g. the drive for driving the conveyor belt, are mainly located within the confines of the conveyor belt, such that the unit is essentially a cassette with the conveyor belt extending around it. This allows for a compact removable unit.

In a further embodiment, the dispensing conveyor is configured as a removable unit that allows for easy replacement of the conveyor belt. In such an embodiment, the dispensing conveyor unit can be taken from the housing, after which the conveyor belt can be taken from the unit to facilitate cleaning of the conveyor belt and to allow easy access to the other components of the removable unit, for example to enable easy cleaning. Furthermore, such an embodiment allows for replacing the conveyor belt with a belt having a different pattern of gripping members, for example to use the dispenser with tomatoes of a different size or to use the dispenser with other semi spherical food products.

In an embodiment the removable unit is supported in a bottom compartment housing, which preferably is configured as a cradle for receiving the driven dispensing conveyor, in particular the removable unit. In a further embodiment, the bottom compartment of the housing also comprises a driven feeder plate, which driven feeder plate is preferably configured to be driven by the driven dispensing conveyor.

In an embodiment, the housing comprises a bottom compartment and a top compartment, wherein the top compartment comprises the hopper, and the bottom compartment comprises the feeder plate, the driven dispensing conveyor and the chute, and wherein the bottom compartment supports the top compartment such that the top compartment can be removed to provide access to the driven dispensing conveyor. By thus providing the dispenser with a removable hopper, easy access can be provided to the components of the dispenser, for example to enable cleaning, repair, etc. of those components.

The dispenser according to the first aspect of the invention is configured for dispensing semi spherical food products, in particular cherry tomatoes. The dispenser can also be used with other type of semi spherical food products, for example nuts, berries or the like. It should be noted that some features can be adapted to make the dispenser better fit the product to be dispensed, in particular the interspacing and the size of the gripping members may be adapted to fit a particular product. For example, larger semi spherical food products require longer gripping members, interspaced at a greater distance compared to smaller semi spherical food products. Also, the outflow opening of the hopper, the angle of the feeder plate, etc. may be adapted to better fit the characteristics of a particular product.

In an embodiment, components of the dispenser may be adjustable, or may comprise adjustable components. For example the outflow of the hopper may be adjustable, for example by providing a sliding valve to adjust an outflow opening, the inclination of the feeder plate and/or the inclination of the dispensing conveyor may be adjustable, etc.

In an embodiment, the dispenser, in particular the housing of the dispenser, is configured to be stacked, and/or to be grouped in rows of dispensers. Thus different dispensers can be combined in a single set up, each dispenser being provided with a different type of product. For example, one dispenser for red tomatoes, one for green tomatoes and one for yellow tomatoes. In an embodiment, the chute may be configured to support a receptacle, for example a paper bag, for receiving the dispensed products. In a further embodiment, the chute may be provided with a weighing device, the weighing device displaying the weight of the amount of products received in in the receptacle supported by the chute. In an embodiment, the chute is provided with a resilient area for receiving products dropped from the dispensing conveyor. In such an embodiment, the chute may be formed out of sheet metal, and is provided with a layer of flexible material, e.g. a rubber insert or a pouch attached onto the chute, at the area the products dropped from the conveyor are received, for softening the impact. This is especially beneficial in case delicate products are dispensed. The first aspect of the invention provides an in-store self-service dispenser to be operated by consumers, for dispensing cherry tomatoes and similar semi spherical food products.

In an embodiment, the dispenser may comprise a stock of stack receptacles, which are presented to a consumer one at the time to be filled by the consumer with tomatoes.

It is submitted that the dimensions of the gripping members are preferably matched with the product to be dispensed. For example, the height of the gripping members is preferably such that they only entail a single layer of cherry tomatoes. Thus, the gripping members preferably do not extend beyond two third of the height of the particular product to be dispensed.

It is furthermore submitted that the diameter of the gripping members preferably is smaller than the diameter of the semi spherical products to be dispensed. In an embodiment, the dispenser is configured for dispensing cherry tomatoes and the gripping members have a diameter smaller than the diameter of typical cherry tomatoes. For example, for dispensing cherry tomatoes having an average diameter of 1 ,5 cm gripping members are used that have a diameter smaller than 1 ,5 cm, for example have a diameter between 1 ,2 cm and 0,6 cm, for example of 0.8 cm. Furthermore, the shape of the gripping member is preferably matched with the product to be dispensed. For example, in case of delicate food products, the gripping members preferably are rounded and/or are provided with a rounded or chamfered cross section, without any edges or corners that may cause peak pressures in the products where contacted by the gripping members.

In an embodiment, the gripping members are cylindrical shaped, or have a cylindrical shaped midsection for contacting the products, and protrude from the support surface of the conveyor belt in a direction substantially perpendicular to the support surface.

In a preferred embodiment, the gripping members are conical shaped, having a spherical top, and protrude from the support surface of the conveyor belt in a direction substantially perpendicular to the support surface.

However, for example hemispherical shaped, conical shaped, mushroom shaped gripping members, etc. can also be used. In an embodiment, the dispenser according to the first aspect of the invention is configured for dispensing cherry tomatoes. It is submitted that cherry tomatoes are a specific variety of tomatoes. Although they can range in size from a berry size up to the size of a plum, they are typically produced having an average size in the range of 15-20 mm. Also, the shape of cherry tomatoes may range from being spherical to oblong, having a length of 20-30 mm and a diameter of 15-20 mm.

However, they are typically produced with a semi spherical shape.

For cherry tomatoes having a diameter of about 15-20 mm, the gripping members can be provided in the shape of conical shaped bodies, having a spherical top and a diameter of about 6 mm just below the spherical top at a height of about 6 mm, the gripping member having an overall height including the spherical shaped top, of about 8 mm.

Furthermore, for dispensing cherry tomatoes having an average diameter of about 20 mm, the gripping members are preferably spaced at a distance of 20 mm, the gripping members having a diameter of 0,7 cm. Thus, the gripping members are interspaced at a distance of 13 mm, i.e. the passage between the gripping members has a width of 13 mm, which enables two gripping members to securely entail a cherry tomato having a diameter of about 15 mm or more. When for example apricots having an average diameter of 2,5 cm are to be dispensed, the spacing between two gripping members can be larger, for example is 20 mm. this can be achieved by increasing the space between the gripping members and/or by increasing the diameter of the gripping members. However, it is to be noted that the diameter of the gripping members preferably is kept small, since this allows for guiding the conveyor belt over a return roll having a comparatively small diameter. Typically, an increase in the diameter of the gripping members reduces the flexibility of the conveyor belt. Other semi spherical food products that can be dispensed using a dispenser according to the first aspect of the invention are for example nuts, e.g. walnuts, chestnuts, hazelnuts, berries, e.g. gooseberries, blueberries, blackberries, plums, apricots, cherries, etc.

The gripping members preferably are made of a flexible material, preferably are an integral part of the conveyor belt. Preferably, the gripping members have a small diameter, such that during use they are flexible enough to flex to a certain extend and thus reduce the chance of damaging delicate food products such as cherry tomatoes.

In an embodiment, different conveyor belts can be used to enable a dispenser to be adapted a certain type of product. These conveyor belts may differ in the pattern and dimensions of the gripping members such that they are optimally configured to handle different types of products. For example, one conveyor belt can be provided with small sized gripping members spaced close to each other for handling semi spherical fruit products having a small diameter, for example berries, while another conveyor belt is provided with large sized gripping members spaced further away from each other for handling semi spherical fruit products having a larger diameter, for example cherry tomatoes.

In a further embodiment the driven dispensing conveyor is configured to allow for the conveyor belt to be replaced, preferably is configured as a removable unit that allows for easy replacement of the conveyor belt once the removable unit has been taken from the housing, and the dispenser is provided with multiple conveyor belts. Thus, the dispenser can be easily adapted to a different type of product to be dispensed.

In an embodiment, the conveyor belt is provided with a grid of openings, said openings being configured for mounting gripping members on the conveyor belt. In such an embodiment, the gripping members are provided in the form of separate bodies that can be mounted on the conveyor belt, for example by using a screw type connection or a force fit connection. Thus the pattern of gripping members can be adjusted to fit a particular type of product to be dispensed. Also, such an embodiment allows for more flexible gripping members to be replaced with more rigid gripping members, larger gripping members to be replaced with smaller gripping members, etc.

In an embodiment, the dispensing conveyor extends along the dispensing trajectory to such an extent that the dispensing conveyor can hold pattern of cherry tomatoes, the individual cherry tomatoes not contacting each other, which cherry tomatoes are preferably grouped in multiple rows, said rows preferably extending at an angel to the dispensing direction.

In an embodiment, the return roll of the conveyor belt located at the transfer zone has a diameter of at least 4 cm and at most 6 cm, preferably is about 5 cm. Such a diameter promotes the gripping members moving away from each other when passing the return roll, to thus facilitate transfer of the cherry tomatoes onto the support surface of the conveyor.

In an embodiment, the return roll of the conveyor belt located at the dispensing zone has a diameter of at least 4 cm and at most 6 cm, preferably is about 5 cm. Such a diameter allows for locating the chute below the conveyor, with a drop height small enough to prevent damage to cherry tomatoes.

In an embodiment the distance between the rotational axes of the return rolls lies in the range of 7-9 cm, preferably is about 8 cm. In such an embodiment a single rotation of a return roll would advance the conveyor belt over a distance of about 3 cm. In a preferred embodiment, the gripping members are grouped such that the dispense quantity is three cherry tomatoes at once, preferably provided by three parallel rows of tomatoes, each row dispensing one cherry tomato. In an embodiment, the gripping members are grouped to dispense a maximum of cherry tomatoes at once, said maximum preferably being at most fifteen cherry tomatoes at once.

In an embodiment, the dispenser is configured to enable the consumer to dispense three cherry tomatoes at once. The actuator is provided in the form of a handle, wherein the actuator is configured such that a minimum pull dispenses 3 cherry tomatoes, while a full pull dispenses 10-15 cherry tomatoes.

The first aspect of the invention furthermore provides a method for providing consumers with cherry tomatoes, said method comprising:

- providing a dispenser according to the first aspect of the invention,

- filling the buffer of the dispenser with cherry tomatoes.

Advantageous embodiments of the dispenser according to the first aspect of the invention and the method according to the first aspect of the invention are disclosed in the sub claims and in the description, in which the first aspect of the invention is further illustrated and elucidated on the basis of a number of exemplary embodiments, of which some are shown in the schematic drawing.

According to a second aspect, the present invention provides a tray assembly comprising a stackable tray and a slide.

Stackable trays for holding or storing products, such as agricultural products, are well known in the art and can be found in many embodiments. Such trays are usually made from plastic, cardboard. Especially cardboard trays may be used a single time only, having limited functionality. The trays may only be suited to store and protect products, while they allow for easy stacking; both on top and besides each other, such that they can be transported easily and efficiently. Most of these trays are only suited for storing products. Typically, such trays have an open top side. The open trays are used during harvest to place the products in through its open top side, for transport of the products to a sales location, such as a supermarket, possibly via an auction house or another middleman. Due to the open top, products are visible and easy accessible. A simple cover, e.g. a paper sheet or plastic net, may be placed in or over the tray to provide some protection for the products, in particular to prevent other products or materials to fall into the tray during transport and/or storage and mix with the products. For some products, the trays may be used as a display, i.e. set up at a vending location to display the products, allowing customers to grab the products directly from the tray, through the open top side of the tray, e.g. in a grocery store.

It is an object of the second aspect of the invention to provide an improved tray. More specifically, it is an object of the second aspect of the second aspect of the invention to provide a tray assembly, i.e. to provide a tray with additional and/or improved functionality, allowing the tray to be used more efficiently.

Therefore, the second aspect of the invention provides a tray assembly comprising a stackable tray and a slide according to claim 16. A tray assembly according to the second aspect of the invention comprises a stackable tray and a slide,

wherein the stackable tray comprises:

a bottom panel with a substantially rectangular circumferential edge;

a pair of first side panels, arranged opposite of each other, and a pair of second side panels, arranged opposite of each other, wherein the first pair of side panels and the second pair of side panels each adjoin the circumferential edge of the bottom panel;

wherein corners of the tray are formed by adjoining side panels of the first pair of side panels and the second pair of side panels, respectively, the tray having a substantially rectangular outer circumference and an interior space defined by said side panels and said bottom panel, the interior space being arranged to store products, preferably agricultural products; and wherein the bottom panel of the tray comprises a dispensing opening,

wherein the slide comprises:

a cover portion configured to substantially cover said dispensing opening; and a grip for manipulating the slide, i.e. for moving the slide between a first slide position and a second slide position;

wherein the slide is arranged near the bottom panel of the tray; and

wherein the dispensing opening is substantially covered when the slide is arranged in said first slide position, and wherein the dispensing opening is at least partially uncovered when the slide is arranged in said second slide position, allowing products to be dispensed from the interior space of the tray, through the dispensing opening in the bottom panel of the tray, out of the tray. The tray assembly according to the second aspect of the invention comprises a stackable tray. Hence, at least one other tray can be stacked on top of the tray when both trays are filled with products. Preferably, several trays, each filled with products, can be stored on top of each other. Preferably the tray is an open top stackable tray. It may be beneficial when the corners of the tray are reinforced, to increase the number of trays that can be stacked on top of the tray. Many different trays comprising reinforced corners are known in the art.

The stackable tray according to the second aspect of the invention comprises a first and a second pair of side panels. The first pair may comprise a left tray panel and a right tray panel, while the second pair may comprise a front tray panel and a rear tray panel. The front and rear tray panel may have a height that is larger than a height of the left and right side panel. Preferably, the top of the tray is substantially open, allowing for easy placement of products in the interior of the tray. Preferably, the panels are substantially perpendicular to the bottom panel.

According to the second aspect of the invention, the stackable tray comprises an interior space to store or hold products, preferably agricultural products, such as tomatoes, more preferably cherry tomatoes. The bottom panel of the stackable tray according to the second aspect of the invention comprises a dispensing opening. This opening has a size that is larger than a cross-section of the products that are arranged inside the interior space of the tray, to allow the products to be dispensed through the dispensing opening. For example, when the tray is used for transporting agricultural products in the form of cherry tomatoes, the dispensing opening may have a minimal diameter of at least 2 times the diameter of a cherry tomato, for example 3 times the diameter of a cherry tomato. Thus, for cherry tomatoes having a diameter of about 15-20 mm, the tray can be provided with a circular or oval dispensing opening having a minimal diameter of 60 mm, for example having a minimal diameter of 70 mm.

It is furthermore submitted that a tray according to the second aspect of the invention can be provided with multiple dispensing openings, for example a row of two or three dispensing openings, provided in the bottom panel of the tray, for example along a longitudinal axis of the bottom panel of the tray. Preferably, these multiple dispensing openings can be covered and uncovered by moving a single slide between a first slide position and a second slide position. Notwithstanding the presence of a dispensing opening, it is well conceivable that there can be further, smaller, openings in the bottom of the tray, e.g. to provide drainage, or to allow easy stacking of the trays on top of each other. These other openings will however typically be smaller than a cross-section of the products stored inside the interior space of the tray. The tray assembly according to the second aspect of the invention comprises a slide, arranged near the bottom panel of the tray, e.g. inside the interior of the tray on the bottom panel or outside of the tray, under the bottom panel, said slide comprising a handle that allows the slide to be moved between a first slide position, in which the dispensing opening is covered by the slide, such that the products remain in the interior space of the tray when the slide is in the first slide position, e.g. during transport and storage of products, and a second slide position, in which the dispensing opening is at least partially uncovered, for dispensing the products e.. into another tray, bag or a dispenser, and, preferably, any other position in between said first and second positions.

The slide may for example be guided along the bottom panel of the tray when it is moved from the first slide position to the second slide position, or vice versa.

The grip of the slide and the covering portion of the slide may be connected with a connecting portion. In an embodiment, the covering portion, the connecting portion and he handle are an integral part, i.e. are folded from a single blank. In an alternative embodiment one or more of the covering portion, the connecting portion and the grip are separate components which are combined during the manufacturing process, for example are each folded made out of a blank, and are glued together during the manufacturing process. In yet another embodiment, the slide may comprise components out of different materials. For example, the covering portion may be a plastic panel, connected via nylon wires with a cardboard grip. Many configurations are possible within the scope of the second aspect of the invention, however in a preferred embodiment, the slide is folded from a single blank of cardboard, which allows for a low cost product with a simple manufacturing process.

A tray assembly according to the second aspect of the invention may be used during harvest of the products, for collecting the products in the interior space and subsequent storage of the products.

The tray assembly can be used for transport of the products to a sales location, and can be used in a traditional way for displaying products to consumers, for example by stacking the tray assembly on a rack in a store.

With the tray assembly according to the second aspect of the invention, when using it in the way as set out above, it is thus not needed to empty the tray, transferring the products from the tray in which they are harvested. As the products are directly sold from the tray in which they were harvested, this lowers the risk that the products are damaged during emptying the tray, and the sales process is more efficient for store employees, as the tray does not need to be emptied, and the tray needs to be lifted only for a relatively short amount of time when placing the tray on top of the rack.

However, according to the second aspect of the invention, the tray assembly also allows for easy transfer of the products from the interior space of the tray into another receptacle, for example a display container in a store, a dispenser device, or into bags for further distribution, by simply placing the tray assembly above the other receptacle and moving the slide into the second position.

In a preferred embodiment, the tray assembly is used for stacking a self-service dispenser. The products can for example be dispensed through the dispensing opening into a self- service device for dispensing the products, the dispenser allowing customers can fill a holder, e.g. a paper bag or a plastic cup, with a desired amount of the products.

With the tray assembly according to the second aspect of the invention, when using it in the way as set out above, the tray products can be transferred, and the tray can be emptied in a simple and efficient manner.

In the prior art, products are preferably not transferred from the open top trays into other receptacles after transport, but are sold directly from the trays, to thus reduce the risk of damaging the products by the extra transfer step and/or spillage of the products. Typically, when the products are to be transferred from a prior art tray into another receptacle, they are scooped from the tray, e.g. by hand or using a scoop, which inherently has the risk of damaging the products. In addition, or as an alternative, the tray is tipped or turned on its side to move the products out of its interior space and into another receptacle, which type of transfer is difficult to control and often leads to product spillage, i.e. for example products missing the other receptacle and ending up on the shop floor, etc.

The second aspect of the invention furthermore provides a system comprising a tray assembly according to the second aspect of the invention and a dispenser, preferably an in- store self-service dispenser to be operated by consumers, for dispensing agricultural products, e.g. cherry tomatoes and similar semi spherical food products, to consumers.

In an embodiment of a system according to the second aspect of the invention, the tray assembly is combined with an in-store self-service dispenser to be operated by consumers, for dispensing cherry tomatoes and similar semi spherical food products, wherein the dispenser comprises a filling opening for receiving products to be dispensed, and

the dispenser is configured to support the tray with the dispensing opening of the tray aligned with the filling opening of the dispenser, to enable products to be dispensed from the interior space of the tray via the dispensing opening and into the dispenser via the filling opening. In an embodiment of a system according to the second aspect of the invention the dispenser comprises a hopper, the hopper having a filling opening at its top, and wherein the hopper is configured for supporting the tray with its dispensing opening above the filling opening of the hopper.

In an embodiment of a system according to the second aspect of the invention, the dispenser comprises:

- a hopper, for holding multiple cherry tomatoes;

- a feeder plate;

- a driven dispensing conveyor, for dispensing the cherry tomatoes;

- an actuator, for actuating the driven dispensing conveyor;

- a chute, for guiding dispensed cherry tomatoes into a receptacle;

- a housing, which housing supports the hopper, the feeder plate, the driven dispensing conveyor; the actuator and the chute;

wherein the hopper, the feeder plate, the dispensing conveyor and the chute define a dispensing trajectory, the dispensing trajectory extending from the hopper to the chute, via the feeder surface and the dispensing conveyor, for transporting the cherry tomatoes from the hopper to the chute,

wherein the hopper has a filling opening at its top, and is configured for supporting the tray with its dispensing opening aligned with and above that filling opening for the transfer of cherry tomatoes from the tray into the hopper, and

wherein the hopper is open at a bottom end for feeding the cherry tomatoes, along the dispensing trajectory, to the feeder plate,

wherein the feeder plate is inclined downwards in a direction towards the dispensing conveyor, to gravity feed the cherry tomatoes along the dispensing trajectory towards the dispensing conveyor,

wherein the feeder plate and the dispensing conveyor join at a transfer zone, from which transfer zone the dispensing conveyor picks up cherry tomatoes presented by the feeder plate,

wherein the dispensing conveyor comprises a conveyor belt, which conveyor belt extends along the dispensing trajectory from a pick up end towards a dispensing end, at which dispensing end the cherry tomatoes are dropped from the conveyor belt into the chute, wherein the conveyor belt has a support surface for supporting the cherry tomatoes, and on said support surface is provided with a pattern of gripping members, which gripping members are dimensioned and distributed over the support surface for, in combination, entailing the cherry tomatoes supported on the support surface into the dispensing direction along the dispensing trajectory, and

wherein the actuator is provided with an interface that enables a consumer to actuate the driven dispenser, i.e. to drive the conveyor belt of the dispensing conveyor, and to thus dispense the cherry tomatoes.

Preferably, the hopper and the tray assembly of a system according to the second aspect of the invention comprise coupling devices, e.g. positioning ribs, slots, and/or corresponding tabs, which coupling devices engage each other when the tray is mounted on top of the hopper to position and preferably secure the tray with the dispensing opening aligned with the filling opening of the dispenser. The tray may then be positioned with its dispensing opening above the hopper, and remain in such a position when the slide is moved. According to an embodiment of a tray according to the second aspect of the invention, one of the side panels comprises a first passage, the cover portion of the slide is arranged inside the interior of the tray on the bottom panel thereof, and said grip at least partially extends from the interior of the tray, through the first passage in the side panel, out of the tray when the slide is in said first slide position. This allows easy handling of the handle by a user of the tray assembly when the interior space of the tray is filled with products. Preferably, the first passage is provided in the front panel of the tray, to enable easy access to the slide when said tray is placed in a rack or on top of a dispenser. Preferably, the first passage is arranged near the bottom panel of the tray. According to a further embodiment of the second aspect of the invention, the cover portion and the grip are separated by a grip hinge section, allowing the grip to be folded substantially parallel and adjacent to said side panel of the tray when the slide is in said first position. This allows the trays to be stored side by side in a more efficient manner, e.g. on a pallet, without risking to damage the grip of the slide.

According to a further embodiment of the second aspect of the invention, the grip comprises a main part and a tip part, separated by a tip hinge section, said grip hinge section and said tip part hinge section enabling the tip part to be folded relative to the main part in a position substantially parallel to the cover portion; and said panel comprising a securing opening, for receiving the tip part, when the slide is in the first slide position. This provides a tray according to the second aspect of the invention with a compact configuration, i.e. with no protruding parts, and thus reduces the risk of damage to the tray, in particular to the grip when transporting the tray assemblies and/or when handling the tray assemblies during harvest and/or transport. Further, a tray assembly according to this embodiment can easily and efficiently be stored side by side. According to a further embodiment of the second aspect of the invention, the cover portion has a width similar to a width of the bottom panel, and the cover portion abuts with opposite edges against a left side panel and a right side panel of the tray. The left side panel and the right side panel may advantageously guide the cover portion parallel to said side panels, when the cover portion is moved from said first slide position towards said second slide position. This allows a smooth and unobstructed operation of the slide, leading to relatively little damage to the products inside the tray when operating the slide.

According to an alternative embodiment of the second aspect of the invention, the tray may be provided with one or more, preferably two, guide panels, e.g. in the form of inlays, that center the cover portion of the slide above the dispensing opening when the slide is in the first slide position, and that guide the cover portion, preferably in a direction parallel to the left side panel and the right side panel, when the slide is moved from the first position towards the second position. According to a further embodiment of the second aspect of the invention, the cover portion has a width that is wider than said first passage. The cover portion can then advantageously not be pulled out of the tray through the first passage, or at least this is relatively difficult.

According to a further embodiment of the second aspect of the invention, the cover portion has a front and a rear, the handle being located at the front of the cover portion, and the cover portion having a rear edge at the rear, which rear edge abuts a rear panel of the tray, when the slide is in the first slide position. The rear panel may for example function as a stop for positioning the cover portion relative to the dispensing opening when the slide is in the first slide position. Preferably, the cover portion completely covers the dispensing opening when in said first slide position.

According to a further embodiment of the second aspect of the invention, the cover portion has one or more tabs at the rear, which tabs are received in corresponding apertures provided in the rear panel or between the rear panel and the bottom panel when the slide is in the first position. The tabs and apertures may position the cover panel relative to the dispensing opening when the slide is in the first position. According to this embodiment, the rear edge of the cover portion may also abut the rear panel of the tray when the slides is in the first slide position, although this is not necessary.

According to a further embodiment of the second aspect of the invention, the cover portion comprises a cut out, preferably along the rear edge of the cover portion, which cut out at least partially overlaps with the dispensing opening when the slide is in the second slide position. When the cut out overlaps with the dispensing opening, the dispensing opening is thus uncovered, allowing products to be dispensed from the interior of the tray, through the dispensing opening, out of the tray.

In a preferred embodiment, the cut out is combined with an edge and/or tabs that contact the rear panel, to thus position the slide, when the slide is in the first slide position. For example the cut out can be shaped in as a semi-circle, flanked on opposite sides by the side portions that abut the rear panel when the slide is in the first slide position. In such an embodiment, the cut out can be used to limit the amount of travel needed for moving the slide between the first slide position and the second slide position.

According to a further embodiment of the second aspect of the invention, the tray is provided with a cover panel, e.g. in the form of an inlay, which top bottom panel comprises a dispensing opening concentric with the dispensing opening in the bottom panel, and which top bottom panel is located on top of the slide, thus creating a double bottom. The top bottom panel may then be arranged on the bottom panel of the tray. According to this embodiment of the second aspect of the invention, the slide may advantageously be moved between the bottom panel and the top bottom panel when moved from the first position into the second position. When a top bottom panel is provided on top of the slide, the products in the tray may be stored on the top bottom panel. This may prevent damage to the products when the slide is moved between its first slide position and its second slide position.

According to a further embodiment of the second aspect of the invention, the top bottom panel comprises one or more sections that extend at an angle with the bottom panel. The top bottom panel may then form a chute for guiding products towards the dispensing opening. This makes it easier to fully empty the tray, in particular to remove the last products from the interior of the tray.

In a preferred embodiment of the second aspect of the invention, the cover portion of the slide has dimensions that are larger than the dimensions of the dispensing opening. This allows the dispensing opening to be fully covered by the cover portion of the slide when this slide is in its first slide position. According to a further embodiment of the second aspect of the invention, the tray has a length, a width and a height, and wherein the length is larger than the width, and the width is larger than the height. Further, preferably, the height of the first pair of side panels, e.g. the front panel and the rear panel, is larger than the height of the second pair of side panels, e.g. the right side panel and the left side panel.

According to a further embodiment of the second aspect of the invention, the tray is provided with reinforced corners, for supporting an additional tray that is filled with products stacked on top of it. Many different types of reinforced corners of stackable trays are already known in the art and can be utilized with a tray according to the second aspect of the invention.

According to a further embodiment of the second aspect of the invention, the bottom panel of the tray is substantially flat. This makes it easy to stack multiple trays on top of each other, without damaging products contained in a lower tray or trays. Preferably, the corner sections of the tray, are at the top provided with taps, and at the bottom with openings for receiving similar tabs of another tray, to enable secure stacking of one tray on top of another tray. Such an embodiment is in particular beneficial when four or more trays are to be stacked on top of each other, for example on a pallet to facilitate transport of multiple trays together.

According to a further embodiment of the second aspect of the invention, the dispensing opening has an elongated shape, and the dispensing opening has a longitudinal axis that extends in a direction parallel to the left side panel and the right side panel. An elongated dispensing opening provides a relatively large opening, while the bottom panel can remain relatively strong, such that a relatively large amount of products, having a relatively large weight, can be stored in the tray, even when the bottom panel of the tray comprises a dispensing opening.

According to a further embodiment of the second aspect of the invention, the dispensing opening is located at the centre of the bottom panel.

According to a further embodiment of the second aspect of the invention, the maximum inner height of the tray is between 60 mm and 120 mm, and/or the maximum inner width of the tray is between 200 mm and 500 mm, and/or the maximum inner length of the tray is between 300 mm and 600 mm. According to an embodiment, the tray comprises a front panel and rear panel having a height larger than the height of the side panels, and/or the side panels are provided with a lower midsection, such that, when another tray is stacked upon the tray, an opening is present between the top of the side panels, or at least the top of a midsection of the side panels, and the bottom panel of the other tray stacked on top of the tray, more in particular stacked on top of the front and rear panel and/or the corner sections of the tray.

According to a further embodiment of the second aspect of the invention, the tray and/or the slide are folded out of a flat panel material, for example a cardboard blank.

The second aspect of the invention furthermore provides a blank for folding a tray of a tray assembly according to the second aspect of the invention.

The second aspect of the invention furthermore provides a blank for folding a slide of a tray assembly according to the second aspect of the invention.

The second aspect of the invention furthermore provides a method for dispensing agricultural product, preferably tomatoes, more preferably cherry tomatoes, wherein use is made of a system according to the second aspect of the invention, the method comprising the steps of: - positioning the tray, at least partially filled with products, on top of the dispenser;

- moving the slide from the first slide position towards the second slide position; and

- transferring products from the interior space of the tray via the dispensing opening in the bottom panel into the dispenser, preferably into a hopper of the dispenser. A further method according to the second aspect of the invention comprising the steps of:

- filling the tray with cherry tomatoes, preferably at a location distant from the dispenser, and

- transporting the tray with cherry tomatoes to the dispenser, preferably by way of road travel

The second aspect of the invention furthermore relates to the use of tray assembly according to the second aspect of the invention for distributing agricultural products, preferably cherry tomatoes, preferably in combination with a dispenser device, e.g. as part of a system according to the second aspect of the invention.

Advantageously, the tray assembly according to the second aspect of the invention is an open top stackable tray to be used with agricultural products, preferably semi spherical food products that can be dispensed using a dispenser, for example tomatoes, e.g. cherry tomatoes, nuts, e.g. walnuts, chestnuts, hazelnuts, berries, e.g. gooseberries, blueberries, blackberries, plums, apricots, cherries, etc.

It is submitted that cherry tomatoes are a specific variety of tomatoes. Although they can range in size from a berry size up to the size of a plum, they are typically produced having an average size in the range of 15-20 mm. Also, the shape of cherry tomatoes may range from being spherical to oblong, having a length of 20-30 mm and a diameter of 15-20 mm.

However, they are typically produced with a semi spherical shape. It is submitted that the first aspect of the invention and the second aspect of the invention can also be combined in advantageous embodiments. Based on the disclosure herein, such combinations, and the advantageous thereof, will be apparent to the skilled person. In an embodiment according to the second aspect of the invention, the tray assembly according to the second aspect of the invention is combined with a dispenser according to the first aspect of the invention.

Advantageous embodiments of the tray assembly according to the second aspect of the invention, the system according to the second aspect of the invention and the method and use according to the second aspect of the invention, are further illustrated and elucidated on the basis of a number of exemplary embodiments, of which some are shown in the schematic drawing.

In the drawings, Fig. 1 shows a perspective view of an in-store self-service dispenser according to the first aspect of the invention;

Fig. 2 shows a frontal view of the dispenser of Fig. 1 ;

Fig. 3 shows a side view in cross section along the line a-a of the dispenser of Fig. 2;

Fig. 4 shows a perspective view of a bottom compartment of the dispenser of Fig. 1 ;

Fig. 5 shows a perspective view of some components of the dispenser of Fig. 1 ;

Fig. 6 shows a top view of the bottom compartment of Fig. 4;

Fig. 7 shows three different lay outs of a conveyor belt according to the first aspect of the invention;

Fig. 8 shows a close up in top view of a section of a conveyor belt of the dispenser of Fig. 1 ; Fig. 9 shows a close up in side view of a section of a conveyor belt of the dispenser of Fig. 1 ; Fig. 10 shows close up in side view of the dispensing conveyor, the feeder plate and flexible skimmer; Fig. 1 1 shows a perspective view of the components of Fig. 10;

Fig. 12 is a close up of the dispensing conveyor and of the feeder plate;

Fig. 13 shows an alternative lay out of a conveyor belt according to the first aspect of the invention;

Fig. 14 shows a further alternative lay out of a conveyor belt according to the first aspect of the invention;

Fig. 15 shows a further alternative lay out of a conveyor belt according to the first aspect of the invention;

Figure 16 schematically shows a top view of a first embodiment of a blank for folding a tray of the tray assembly according to the second aspect of the invention,

Figure 17 schematically shows a top view of a second embodiment of a blank for folding a tray of the tray assembly according to the second aspect of the invention,

Fig. 18 schematically shows an isometric view of an embodiment of a tray of the tray assembly according to the second aspect of the invention

Fig. 19 schematically shows a top view of an embodiment of a blank for folding a slide of the tray assembly according to the second aspect of the invention,

Fig. 20 schematically shown a top view of an embodiment of the tray assembly according to the second aspect of the invention, wherein the slide is in a first slide position,

Fig. 21 schematically shown a top view of an embodiment of the tray assembly according to the second aspect of the invention, wherein the slide is in an intermediate slide position, Fig. 22 schematically shown a top view of an embodiment of the tray assembly according to the second aspect of the invention, wherein the slide is in a second slide position,

Fig. 23 schematically shows a top view of an alternative exemplary embodiment of a tray assembly according to the second aspect of the invention,

Fig. 24 schematically shows a perspective view of the tray of figure 23,

Fig. 25 schematically shows a side view of system according to the second aspect of the invention, the system comprising a tray assembly and a dispenser,

Fig. 26 schematically shows a perspective view of an exemplary embodiment of a tray assembly according to the second aspect of the invention, and

Fig. 27 schematically shows an exploded view of the tray assembly of figure 26.

In Fig. 1 is shown a side view of an exemplary embodiment of an in-store self-service dispenser 1 to be operated by consumers, for dispensing cherry tomatoesi 1 and similar semi spherical food products, according to the first aspect of the invention. Fig. 2 a frontal view of the dispenser of Fig. 1 , and Fig. 3 shows a side view in cross section of the dispenser. In the particular embodiment shown, the dispenser is configured for dispensing semi spherical food products in the form of cherry tomatoes 11.

The dispenser 1 comprises a housing 2. In the housing are provided a hopper 3, a feeder plate 4, a driven dispensing conveyor 5 and a chute 6. The dispenser 1 furthermore comprises an actuator 7.

The hopper 3, the feeder plate 4, the dispensing conveyor 5 and the chute 6 define a dispensing trajectory 8. The dispensing trajectory extends from the hopper 3 to the chute 6, via the feeder plate 4 and the dispensing conveyor 5, for transporting the products 11 from the hopper to the chute. Thus, products move in the dispensing direction 9 along the dispensing trajectory 8 while they move from the hopper to the chute.

The hopper 3 is located at the top of the dispenser and is configured to hold the products 11 to be dispensed. In the particular embodiment shown, the hopper 3 has an opening 10 at a bottom end, and a guide plate 12 for feeding the cherry tomatoes, along the dispensing trajectory 8, to the feeder plate 4. The embodiment 1 shown, the products are fed from the hopper to the feeder plate by gravity, no driven feeder plates or conveyors are required. In an alternative embodiment, the course of the feeding trajectory may differ, for example additional guide plates may be provided, and/or additional driven feeder plates and or conveyor may be provided for feeding the product to be dispensed to the feeder plate that presents the products to be dispensed to the driven dispensing conveyor.

The feeder plate 4, via which the products are presented to the driven dispensing conveyor 5, is inclined downwards in a direction towards the dispensing conveyor 5, to gravity feed the semi spherical food products 11 along the dispensing trajectory 8 towards the conveyor belt 13 of the dispensing conveyor 5.

The feeder plate 4 and the dispensing conveyor 5 join at a transfer zone 14, at which transfer zone the dispensing conveyor picks up food products presented by the feeder plate.

In the embedment shown, the dispensing conveyor is inclined upwards in a direction away from the transfer zone, such that it blocks the stream of products presented by the feeder plate. Thus, the conveyor acts as a barrier that prevents products from prematurely moving from the transfer zone. Furthermore, the feeder plate 4 meets the conveyor at a curved surface of a return roll of the conveyor. Thus, the return roll also provides a barrier, preventing the product to slide directly from the feeder plate onto the support surface. According to the first aspect of the invention, the driven dispensing conveyor 5 comprises a conveyor belt 13 for transporting products along part of the dispensing trajectory. The feeder plate 4, dispensing conveyor 5, and the chute 6 are shown in isolation in Fig. 5.

The conveyor belt 13 extends along the dispensing trajectory 8 from a pick up end 17 towards a dispensing end 18. The conveyor belt 13 has a support surface 16, for supporting the spherical food products 1 1 , and is on the support surface 16 is provided with a pattern of gripping members 15.

The gripping members 15 are show in more detail in Fig. 8 and Fig. 9. The gripping members 15 are dimensioned and distributed over the support surface 17 for, in combination, entailing the spherical products 1 1 , supported on the support surface 17, and to entail the spherical food products into the dispensing direction 9 along the dispensing trajectory 8.

It is noted that in the embodiment shown, the feeder plate 4 meets the conveyor belt 13 of the dispensing conveyor 5 at a curved surface of a return roll 26 of the conveyor belt, see Fig. 3. Thus, when the curvature of the return roll passes through the transfer zone, the curvature of the of the return roll makes the outer ends of the gripping members move away from each other to thus facilitate transfer of the products onto the support surface of the conveyor. The dispenser 1 is provided with the actuator 7 for actuating the driven dispensing conveyor 5. The actuator 7 is provided with an interface that enables a consumer to actuate the driven dispensing conveyor, i.e. to drive the conveyor belt 13 of the dispensing conveyor 5, and to thus dispense the food products 1 1. In the embodiment shown, the interface is provided in the form of a handle 19 that can be pushed down to move gearing of the dispensing conveyor 5 for driving the conveyor belt 13. In an alternative embodiment, the actuator for example comprises an electronic switch linked to an electric drive for driving the conveyor belt of the dispensing conveyor. When the conveyor belt 13 of the dispensing conveyor 5 is driven, the dispensing conveyor 5 transports the products 11 from the transfer zone 14 to the dispensing end 18 of the conveyor 13, where the semi spherical food products 1 1 are dropped from the conveyor belt 13 into the chute 6.

The chute 6, in the embodiment shown located below the dispensing end 18 of the conveyor belt 13, is configured for guiding dispensed food products into a receptacle, for example a paper back, plastic container, etc. (the receptacle is not shown in the Figs.)

It should be noted that the configuration of the different components in the housing can be changed within the scope of the first aspect of the invention. For example the chute may be located adjacent, instead of below, the dispensing end of the driven dispensing conveyor. The driven dispensing conveyor may be fully or partially located outside the housing, for example the dispensing end of the conveyor may be located outside the housing, for example penetrate through an opening in a front panel of the housing. In the embodiment shown, the driven dispensing conveyor 5 is configured as a removable unit 22, which will be discussed in more detail below. The removable unit 22 is removable mounted in the housing 2, and is connected to the actuator 7 via a releasable connection, to enable temporarily removal for cleaning purposes and/or replacement. The removable unit 22 is shown in a side view in Fig. 10, and in perspective view in Fig. 11 , in both cases in a position between the feeder plate 4 and the chute 6. The removable unit 22 is also depicted in Fig. 12, which shows a close up of the dispensing conveyor and of the feeder plate. Furthermore, Fig. 12 depicts the removable unit comprising the dispensing conveyor while being coupled with part of the actuator, more in particular with a connector part of the actuator.

In the particular embodiment shown, the actuator 7 for actuating the driven dispensing conveyor 5 comprises a gear with a conical connector part 30. The conical connector part 30 is provided with external ribs. The conical connector part 30 is part of the actuator 7, which actuator 7 in the embodiment shown is provided with an interface in the form of a handle 19, see Fig. 1 , that enables a consumer to actuate the driven dispensing conveyor, i.e. to drive the conveyor belt 13 of the dispensing conveyor 5, and to thus dispense the food products 1 . Between the handle 19 and the conical connector part 30 gearing is provided to link the movement of the handle 17 in the proper ratio. For example, the handle and the dispensing conveyor may be linked by the gearing such that a full pull of the handle 19 dispenses 10-15 cherry tomatoes. In Fig. 12, only the connector part of the actuator is shown. The removable unit 22 shown comprises a return rolls 26 configure to be coupled with the conical connector part 30 of the actuator 7. The return roll of the removable unit is provided with a recess 31 for receiving the conical connector part 30, and which recess 31 is configured for coupling with the conical connector part, such that the conical connector part can drive the return roll. Thus, the actuator 7, of which only the gear with the conical connector part is shown, can be coupled with the removable unit 22 by inserting the removable unit into the housing, more in particular in the lower compartment of the housing, as shown in Fig. 12. It is noted that in the embodiment shown, the connector part of the actuator 17 also comprises the gear on which the feeder plate rests. In an alternative embodiment, the gear may be part of the removable unit 22. In such an embodiment, the connector for example comprises the conical connector part 30, and the gear comprises part of the recess 31 of the return roll for receiving that connector part. Other means for coupling the actuator with the removable unit are also possible.

Furthermore, in the embodiment shown, the housing 2 comprises a bottom compartment 20 and a top compartment 21. The top compartment rests on the bottom compartment and can be lifted from that bottom compartment to provide access to the inside of the housing. The top compartment 21 comprises the hopper 3 and guide plate 12. The bottom

compartment 20, which is depicted in Fig. 4, comprises the feeder plate 4, the driven dispensing conveyor 5 and the chute 6. In the embodiment shown, the actuator 7 for driving the dispensing conveyor 5 is also provided in the bottom compartment 20. The removable unit 22 is supported in the lower part 20 of the housing, which is configured as a cradle for receiving the driven dispensing conveyor. Thus the removable unit 22, comprising the conveyor belt, return rolls and a connector for connecting the driven dispensing conveyor with the actuator 7, can be lifted from the bottom part of the housing to be removed. The removable unit is shown with the feeder plate 4 and the chute 6 in Fig. 5. In the preferred embodiment shown, the components of the removable unit are mainly located within the confines of the conveyor belt, such that the unit is essentially a cassette with the conveyor belt extending around it. This allows for a compact removable unit. According to the first aspect of the invention, the conveyor belt 13 of the driven dispensing conveyor 5 has support surface 16 onto which a pattern of gripping members 15 is provided. This is for example clear from Fig. 6, in which shows a top view of the bottom compartment 20 of Fig. 4

The gripping members 15 are show in more detail in Fig. 8 and Fig. 9. The gripping members 15 are dimensioned and distributed over the support surface 17 for, in combination, entailing the spherical products 11 , supported on the support surface 17, and to entail the spherical food products into the dispensing direction 9 along the dispensing trajectory 8.

The particular embodiment shown, the dispenser is configured for dispensing cherry tomatoes having a diameter in the range of 15-20 mm, and for cherry tomatoes having an oblong shape, for example having a diameter in the range of 15-20 mm and perpendicular to said diameter have a length in the range of 15-35 mm.

It is submitted that for cherry tomatoes having such dimensions, in a preferred embodiment, shown in fig. 9, the gripping members have conical shaped bodies, with a spherical top and a diameter of about 0,65 cm just below the spherical top at a height of about 0,58 cm. The gripping members have an overall height, including the spherical shaped top, of about 0,82 cm.

The gripping members 15 are distributed over the support surface 16 for, in combination, entailing the spherical products, supported on the support surface, along the dispensing trajectory. Thus there is no continuous front that engages a full row of products at the time. The gripping members provide a discontinuous front allow the spherical products to settle between two gripping members. According to the first aspect of the invention, the conveyor belt is provided with a pattern of gripping members 15, see Fig. 6. The gripping members are dimensioned and grouped such that a cherry tomato is entailed along the dispensing trajectory 8 by two gripping members 15. The gripping members 15 are therefore grouped in pairs, in the particular embodiment shown are grouped in rows, each row comprising multiple pairs of gripping members. More in particular, in the embodiment shown, each row comprises 12 gripping members, for entailing 11 products.

In a first direction, indicated with line 23 and extending perpendicular to the dispensing direction, the gripping members 15 are interspaced relative to each other such that the spherical products 11 moving in the dispensing direction can pass between them. In other words, two gripping members that are each positioned on a line perpendicular to the dispensing direction are spaced such that a product could pass between them. In a second direction, indicated with line 24, the gripping members are interspaced relative to each other such spherical products 11 can not pass between them. The gripping members 15 are spaced such that two gripping members, in combination, can entail a product along the dispensing trajectory. The second direction 24 is at an angle to the first direction 23, and at an angle to the dispensing direction 9.

The gripping members are thus interspaced along that line such that in combination, i.e. a pair of gripping members, they will support a product against movement contrary to the dispensing direction, and against movement in a direction perpendicular to the dispensing direction. The gripping members thus stabilise individual products in three directions.

It is submitted that for dispensing cherry tomatoes having a diameter in the range of 15-20 mm, the gripping member are preferably spaced at a distance of 20 mm, i.e. centre to centre, and each have a diameter of for example 6 mm to enable two gripping members to support a cherry tomato having a diameter of 15 mm.

In the embodiment shown, the rows of gripping members, and thus the rows of products, extend at a 70 degrees angle to the dispensing direction, see Fig. 8. Due to the angle with the dispensing direction, the products of such a row are not all dispensed at once but one after the other. Furthermore, the products are spaced adjacent each other. This provides a substantially continuous flow of products being dispensed, enabling the consumer to better meter his /her portion. Furthermore, the gripping members are grouped in overlapping rows, i.e. the rows overlap each other when seen in a direction perpendicular to the dispensing direction. Thus, multiple parallel rows of cherry tomatoes can be transported in the dispensing direction at once. Also, multiple rows are dispensed at once, each one product at the time, at the dispensing end of the conveyor.

Also, in such an embodiment, the products are not picked up at the transfer zone one row at the time, but product by product for each row. This creates a more continuous flow of products in the transfer zone as well, which reduces the impact on the products in the product flow. Furthermore, the discontinuous front of gripping members, when seen in the dispensing direction, more delicately engages the products compared to continuous fronts that lift entire rows of products. In Fig. 7 different configurations of gripping members are shown. The top most configuration is similar to the one shown in Fig.6. The middle configuration differs in that the rows are V- shaped, with the V-shape pointing into the dispensing direction, stream downwards. In the he bottom configuration the rows are also V-shaped. However, in this configuration the V-shape points contrary to the dispensing direction, i.e. stream upwards.

Other configurations are also possible, see for example Figs. 13-15. Furthermore, the spacing between the gripping members as well as the spacing between the rows of gripping members can be adapted if this better suits the product to be transported.

In the preferred embodiment shown the driven dispensing conveyor is configured to allow for the conveyor belt to be replaced. Thus, the dispenser can be provided with different conveyor belts. The conveyor belts may differ in the pattern and dimensions of the gripping members such that they are optimally configured to handle different types of products. For example, one conveyor belt can be provided with small sized gripping members spaced close to each other for handling semi spherical fruit products having a small diameter, for example berries, while another conveyor belt is provided with large sized gripping members spaced further away from each other for handling semi spherical fruit products having a larger diameter, for example cherry tomatoes.

In the embodiment shown, the support surface 16 of the conveyor belt 13 extending along the dispensing trajectory 8 and the feeder plate 4 enclose a transfer angle, in a plane parallel to the dispensing direction, see Fig. 3. The transfer angle preferably is at least 150 degrees, preferably is at least 160 degrees and is at most 170 degrees. In the embodiment shown, the transfer angle is 25 degrees. Thus, the conveyor and the feeder plate together create a basin at the transfer zone 14, for collecting the products to be dispensed. The inclined feeder plate securing a flow of products into the transfer zone, while the inclined conveyor prevents the products from exiting the transfer zone when the conveyor is not driven. Above the transfer zone a skimmer 25 is provided to prevent too much products from leaving the transfer zone, preferably to reduce the flow of products to a single layer of products. In the embodiment shown, the skimmer 25 is provided in the form of a flexible skimmer sheet 25. Fig. 10 shows close up in side view of the driven conveyor, the feeder plate and a flexible skimmer. Fig. 1 1 shows a perspective view of these components.

The skimmer 25 extends substantially perpendicular to the dispensing direction 9, such that it defines a passage between a lower end of the skimmer sheet and the support surface of the conveyor, which passage is dimensioned to allow only a single layer of products to pass through. The skimmer sheet is a flexible such that in case of stacked products passing through the passage, the skimmer sheet flexes and pushes the products into a downward direction, i.e. towards the support surface of the conveyor, rather than simply blocking passage of the products. Thus, the chance of products getting damaged by the skimmer sheet is reduced.

In the embodiment, the skimmer sheet is furthermore made of a flexible material, in the embodiment shown is made out of a flexible plastic sheet, and is at an end located away from the dispensing conveyor, supported by the housing of the dispenser. This is the top end in fig. 10. In addition, at its opposite end, the skimmer sheet is cut such that it comprises multiple parallel flaps 27 that each may flex individually in a direction parallel to the dispensing direction. Thus, the skimmer sheet can optimally adapt to the flow of products passing beneath it. Such a flexible skimmer sheet is in particular beneficial when delicate products, such as cherry tomatoes are to be dispensed.

In an alternative embodiment, the skimmer may be embodied in the form of a hinged plate, said plate being hinged at a side away from the dispensing conveyor, and being hinged about an axis parallel to the support surface of the conveyor and perpendicular to the dispensing direction. Thus, the plate can pivot in the dispensing direction. In such an embodiment, the plate is biased into a skimming position, in which the opening between the skimming plate and the support surface of the conveyor is minimal. Such a skimmer plate functions in a way similar as disclosed above with respect to the flexible skimmer plate. In the embodiment shown, the feeder plate 4 is a driven feeder plate, i.e. the feeder plate is vibrated to promote the flow of products towards the dispensing conveyor.

In the preferred embodiment shown, the feeder plate 4 is hingeable supported, in the particular embodiment shown by connecting the feeder plate 4 via a flexible body to the housing 2, at an end away from the transfer zone 14, and is supported by a vibration generating device at an end of the feeder plate that is located at the transfer zone. In the embodiment shown, the feeder pate 4 is driven by a vibration device in the form of the return roll 26 of the dispensing conveyor 5.

The return roll 26 of the conveyor 5 is provided with gears 28 at each end, and the feeder plate is at opposite sides provided with ends that rest on those gears. In the embodiment shown, these ends are configured in the form of fingers 29, located at the corners of the feeder plate 4, which fingers extend up to the gears 28 of the adjacent return roll 26 of the dispensing conveyor 5 Thus, when the conveyor 5 is driven, the gears 28 rotate and continuously lift and drop the ends, more in particular the fingers 29, of the feeder plate resting on the teeth of those gears 28. Thus, a dispenser is provided in an efficient way with a driven feeder plate, the actuation of which is directly linked to the actuation of the dispensing conveyor, and thus to the actuation by the consumer.

Furthermore, a configuration in which the feeder plate at one end rests on gears provided at the ends of the return roll allows for an efficient way to couple and uncouple the feeder plate with the removable unit, and for removing and placing the removable unit comprising the driven conveyor. In such an embodiment, the feeder plate is uncoupled by simply lifting the feeder plate from the gears, and is coupled by lowering the feeder plate onto the gears.

Furthermore, in the embodiment shown, the feeder plate, is, at an end located at the transfer zone, provided with a transfer edge that is located adjacent the support surface of the dispensing conveyer device. The transfer edge is provided with multiple setbacks for passing through the gripping members.

Areas of the support surface are free form gripping members. These gripping member free areas extend along the support surface of the conveyor in the dispensing direction. Thus, at these gripping member free area's the feeder plate can extend up to the support surface of the conveyor.

By providing the edge of the feeder plate with setbacks that allow the gripping members to pass the feeder plate, the feeder plate better connects with the conveyor, and the chance of products getting stuck are bruised in a gap is reduced.

Such an embodiment is in particular beneficial for dispensing delicate food products.

It is submitted that for dispensing cherry tomatoes having a diameter in the range of 15-20 mm, the gripping member are preferably spaced at a distance of 20 mm, i.e. centre to centre, and each have a diameter of for example 6 mm to enable two gripping members to support a cherry tomato having a diameter of 15 mm.

The skimmer 25 extends substantially perpendicular to the dispensing direction 9, such that it defines a passage between a lower end of the skimmer sheet and the support surface of the conveyor, which passage is dimensioned to allow only a single layer of products to pass through. The skimmer sheet is a flexible such that in case of stacked products passing through the passage, the skimmer sheet flexes and pushes the products into a downward direction, i.e. towards the support surface of the conveyor, rather than simply blocking passage of the products. Thus, the chance of products getting damaged by the skimmer sheet is reduced. Fig 13-15 show alternative lay outs of a conveyor belt 113 according to the first aspect of the invention, i.e. show alternative patterns of gripping members 115 provided on the conveyor belt 1 13. According to the first aspect of the invention, the gripping members 115 are provided in a pattern configured to entail semi spherical food products 1 11 , for example cherry tomatoes, in a dispensing direction 109. The conveyor belts 113 are shown in top view, dispensing semi spherical products 1 1 in a dispensing direction 109, which dispensing direction 109 in the drawings is directed upwards, i.e. to the top of the page.

It is submitted that in a preferred embodiment of a dispenser according to the first aspect of the invention, the conveyor belts 113, or at least the part thereof that extends in the dispensing direction and supports the semi spherical food products 111 , extends at an angle to the horizontal such that the semi spherical food products 111 , while being moved in the dispensing direction 109, are also moved vertically upwards. In such an embodiment, the dispensing conveyor is inclined upward in a direction towards the chute, such that the semi spherical food products are positioned against the gripping members by gravity. Thus, the semi spherical food products 111 are pushed against the gripping members 1 15 entailing the food products by gravity.

According to the first aspect of the invention, the gripping members 115 are dimensioned and grouped such that in combination, i.e. two gripping members 115, they will entail a semi spherical food product 1 11 , in the embodiment shown a cherry tomato, along the dispensing trajectory 108 into the dispensing direction 109.

In fig. 13 the gripping members 1 15 are grouped in pairs, such that each pair entails a cherry tomato.

In Fig. 14 the gripping members 115 are grouped in rows, i.e. combinations of pairs wherein a gripping member can be part of a first pair and of a second pair, the gripping members of each pair being spaced for entailing a semi spherical food product in the dispensing direction. The rows of gripping members extend at an angle to the dispensing direction, the angle with the dispensing direction being smaller than 90 degrees, and overlap each other, when seen in a direction perpendicular to the dispensing direction. Thus, multiple parallel rows of cherry tomatoes can be transported in the dispensing direction at once. Also, multiple rows are dispensed at once, one product at the time for each row, at the dispensing end of the conveyor.

Since the conveyor belt depicted in Fig. 14 is provided overlapping rows, multiple rows are dispensed at once, each one product at the time, at the dispensing end of the conveyor. However, in the embodiment shown, the overlapping rows can be staggered relative to each other, such that not all rows dispense a product at the same moment. The overlapping rows are staggered relative to each other such that of two adjacent rows the semi spherical food products are not dispensed, i.e. dropped into the chute, at the same moment, but one after the other, i.e. one semi spherical food product of the first row of gripping members, followed by one semi spherical food product of the second row of gripping members, followed by one semi spherical food product of the first row gripping members, etc.

In Fig. 15, the gripping members 115 are also grouped in combinations of pairs. Again a single gripping member can be part of two pairs, the gripping members of each pair being spaced for entailing a semi spherical food product in the dispensing direction.

It is submitted that in addition to the semi spherical food products engaged by a pair of gripping members, further semi spherical food products may be transported, which further semi spherical food products are entailed by a combination of a semi spherical food product and a gripping member, or by a pair of semi spherical food products.

For example, with the pattern of gripping members show in Fig. 15, a double pair of ripping members may entail two cherry tomatoes, of which one is supported by a first pair of gripping members, as depicted, and the another is supported by the cherry tomato and the third gripping member, i.e. the gripping member of the second pair of gripping members. Furthermore, in the embodiments of dispensing conveyors shown in Fig. 13-15, the gripping members 15 are distributed over the support surface of the conveyor belt 113 such that in a first direction, indicate with line 123, perpendicular to the dispensing direction 109, the gripping members are interspaced relative to each other such that the semi spherical food product 111 can pass between them, and in a second direction, indicated with line 124, at an angle to the first direction 123, are interspaced relative to each other such that the gripping members, in combination, entail the semi spherical food product in the dispensing direction 109.

Thus, in the embodiments shown, of a pair of gripping members that is spaced relative to each other to in combination, i.e. as a pair, entail a product into the dispensing direction, those two gripping members are located on a line that is not perpendicular to the dispensing direction. The gripping members thus support a product against movement contrary to the dispensing direction, and against movement in a direction perpendicular to the dispensing direction. The gripping members thus stabilise individual products in three directions.

Shown in figures 16 and 17 is a flat panel material, e.g. a cardboard blank 102, that can be folded into a stackable tray of the tray assembly according to the second aspect of the invention. An example of a folded tray 2 is shown in figure 18, wherein the particular tray 2 corresponds to the blank 102 shown in figure 17.

With reference to figures 16 and 17, it is visible that the stackable tray, once folded, comprises a bottom panel 21 with a substantially rectangular circumferential edge 4. The bottom panel 21 of the tray 2 comprises a dispensing opening 7. Preferably, the dispensing opening 7 is located at the centre of the bottom panel 21. Further preferably, the bottom panel 21 of the tray 2 is substantially flat once the blank 102 is folded into a tray. Besides the dispensing opening 7, other openings 71 , 72, 73, 74 to improve stacking of the trays are visible. These openings are configured to receive tabs from other trays, to thus secure a tray in its stacked position on top of another tray, and thus provide secure stacks of trays. The tray furthermore comprises a pair of first side panels 22, 23, arranged opposite of each other, and a pair of second side panels 24, 25, arranged opposite of each other, wherein the first pair of side panels 22, 23 and the second pair of side panels 24, 25 each adjoin the circumferential edge 4 of the bottom panel 21. In the particular embodiment shown, the first pair of side panels 22, 23 comprises a left side panel 22 and a right side panel 23, while the second pair of side panels 24, 25 comprises a front panel 24 and a rear panel 25. Preferably, the front panel 24 comprises a first passage 8.

As visible in figures 16 and 17, the dispensing opening 7 may have an elongated shape, and a longitudinal axis A that extends in a direction parallel to the left side panel 22 and the right side panel 23.

Corners 5a, 5b, 5c, 5d of the tray are formed by adjoining side panels of the first pair of side panels 22, 23 and the second pair of side panels 24, 25, respectively, the tray having a substantially rectangular outer circumference. As better visible in figure 18, the tray 2 comprises an interior space 6 defined by said side panels 22, 23, 24, 25 and the bottom panel 21 , the interior space 6 being arranged to store products, preferably agricultural products (not shown). Further visible in figure 18, the tray 2 has a length Lt, a width Wt and a height Ht. The length Lt may be larger than the width Wt, and the width Wt may be larger than the height Ht. The maximum inner height Ht of the tray 2 may be between 60mm and 120mm, the maximum inner width Wt of the tray 2 may be between 200mm and 500mm, and/or the maximum inner length Lt of the tray 2 may be between 300mm and 600mm.

As visible in figure 18, the tray 2 may be provided with reinforced corners 5a, 5b, 5c, 5d, for supporting an additional tray that is filled with products stacked on top of it.

Visible in figure 19 is a blank 103 for folding a slide 3 of the tray assembly according to the second aspect of the invention. The slide 3 comprises a cover portion 31 configured to substantially cover said dispensing opening 7 and a grip 32 for manipulating the slide 3, i.e. for moving the slide 3 between a first slide position and a second slide position, as will be explained in more detail with reference to figures 20 - 22. The cover portion 31 and the grip 33 may be separated by a grip hinge section 34, allowing the grip 33 to be folded in a direction upwards with respect to the bottom panel 21 , parallel and adjacent to the front panel 24 of the tray when the slide 3 is in said first slide position P1.

The grip 32 may further comprise a main part 32a and a tip part 32b, separated by a tip hinge section 35. The said grip hinge section 34 and said tip part hinge section 35 may enable the tip part 32b to be folded inwards with respect to the outer side of the tray and relative to the main part 32a, into a position in which the tip part 32b is arranged substantially parallel to the cover portion 31. As visible in figure 16 and 17, the front panel 24 may comprises a securing opening 9, for receiving the tip part 32b, when the slide 3 is in the first slide position.

In assembled state, the dispensing opening 7 is substantially covered when the slide 3 is arranged in said first slide position P1 , shown in figure 20, and the dispensing opening 7 is at least partially uncovered when the slide 3 is arranged in said second slide position P2, shown in figure 22, allowing products to be dispensed from the interior space of the tray, through the dispensing opening 7 in the bottom panel 21 of the tray, out of the tray. The slide 3 is preferably arranged near the bottom panel 21 of the tray 2, e.g. in the interior space of the tray 2, on the bottom 21 thereof.

Further visible in figure 19, is that the cover portion 31 may have a front 31 b and a rear 31a, where the grip 32 is located at the front 31 b of the cover portion 31 , and the cover portion 31 has a rear edge at the rear 31a. The cover portion 31 may furthermore have one or more tabs 36 at the rear 31a, which tabs 36 may be received in corresponding apertures 26 provided in the rear panel 25, as shown in figure 16, when the slide 3 is in the first slide position P1. The tabs may help to position and secure the slide when in the first position, e.g. prevent the slide from falling out of the tray when the tray is for example turned upside down. The cover portion 31 may further comprise a cut out 37, here along the rear edge of the cover portion 31.

With respect to figures 20 - 22, it is visible that grip 32 may at least partially extend from the interior of the tray, through the first passage 8 in the front panel 24, out of the tray 2.

Furthermore, the cover portion 31 may have a width similar to a width of the bottom panel 21 , and the cover portion 31 may abut with opposite edges against a left side panel 22 and a right side panel 23 of the tray 2. As shown, the cover portion 31 may be wider than the first passage 8. Shown in figure 20, is that the rear edge at the rear 31 a of the cover portion may abut a rear panel 25 of the tray 2, when the slide 3 is in the first position P1. Further, cover portion 31 may have dimensions that are larger than the dimensions of the dispensing opening 7.

Shown in figure 22, is that the cut out 37 in the cover portion at least partially overlaps with the dispensing opening 7 when the slide 3 is in the second position P2.

In use, with reference to figures 20 - 22, it is shown how the dispensing opening 7 is substantially covered when the slide 3 is arranged in said first slide position P1 (figure 20), and wherein the dispensing opening 7 is at least partially uncovered when the slide 3 is arranged in said second slide position P2 (figure 22), allowing products to be dispensed from the interior space 6 of the tray 2, through the dispensing opening 7 in the bottom panel 21 of the tray 2, out of the tray 2. An intermediate position P3 is shown in figure 21.

In a non-shown embodiment of the second aspect of the invention, the tray may be provided with a top bottom panel, e.g. in the form of an inlay, which top bottom panel comprises a dispensing opening concentric with the dispensing opening in the bottom panel, and which top bottom panel is located on top of the slide. Preferably, the top bottom panel comprises one or more sections that extend at an angle with the bottom panel. Thus, the slide can move below the inlay, and, except for the cover part covers the dispensing opening, does not come into contact with the products in the interior space. Thus, the risk that products block movement of the slide and/or that products get damaged by the slide being moved between the first and second position is reduced.

The second aspect of the invention further relates to a system comprising said tray assembly 1 , and an in-store self-service dispenser to be operated by consumers, for dispensing cherry tomatoes and similar semi spherical food products, the dispenser comprising:

- a hopper, for holding multiple cherry tomatoes;

- a feeder plate;

- a driven dispensing conveyor, for dispensing the cherry tomatoes;

- an actuator, for actuating the driven dispensing conveyor;

- a chute, for guiding dispensed cherry tomatoes into a receptacle;

- a housing, which housing supports the hopper, the feeder plate, the driven dispensing conveyor; the actuator and the chute;

wherein the hopper, the feeder plate, the dispensing conveyor and the chute define a dispensing trajectory, the dispensing trajectory extending from the hopper to the chute, via the feeder surface and the dispensing conveyor, for transporting the cherry tomatoes from the hopper to the chute,

wherein the hopper is open at a bottom end for feeding the cherry tomatoes, along the dispensing trajectory, to the feeder plate,

wherein the feeder plate is inclined downwards in a direction towards the dispensing conveyor, to gravity feed the cherry tomatoes along the dispensing trajectory towards the dispensing conveyor,

wherein the feeder plate and the dispensing conveyor join at a transfer zone, from which transfer zone the dispensing conveyor picks up cherry tomatoes presented by the feeder plate,

wherein the dispensing conveyor comprises a conveyor belt, which conveyor belt extends along the dispensing trajectory from a pick up end towards a dispensing end, at which dispensing end the cherry tomatoes are dropped from the conveyor belt into the chute, wherein the conveyor belt has a support surface for supporting the cherry tomatoes, and on said support surface is provided with a pattern of gripping members,

which gripping members are dimensioned and distributed over the support surface for, in combination, entailing the cherry tomatoes supported on the support surface into the dispensing direction along the dispensing trajectory, and wherein the actuator is provided with an interface that enables a consumer to actuate the driven dispenser, i.e. to drive the conveyor belt of the dispensing conveyor, and to thus dispense the cherry tomatoes. Preferably, the hopper and the tray assembly 1 comprise coupling devices, e.g. positioning ribs, slots, and/or corresponding tabs, which coupling devices engage each other when the tray is mounted on top of the hopper.

The second aspect of the invention further relates to a method for dispensing agricultural product, preferably tomatoes, more preferably cherry tomatoes, wherein use is made of said system, the method comprising the steps of:

positioning the tray 2, at least partially filled with products, on top of the dispenser; and

moving the slide 3 from the first slide position P1 towards the second slide position P2.

The second aspect of the invention further relates to the use of said system for dispensing agricultural product, preferably tomatoes, more preferably cherry tomatoes.

Figure 23 shows an alternative embodiment a tray assembly 201 according to the second aspect of the invention. Figure 24 shows a top view of the same tray assembly 201.

The tray assembly 201 comprises a stackable tray 202 and a slide 203. The tray 202 comprises four side panels, i.e. a left side panel 222, a right side panel 223, a front panel 224 and a rear panel 225, and a bottom panel 21. The side panels and bottom panel define an interior space 206 for holding products.

According to the second aspect of the invention, the bottom panel 221 is provided with a dispensing opening 207 for dispensing products held in the interior space, through the dispensing opening, at a bottom side of the tray 202.

In the embodiment shown, the slide 203 comprises a cover portion in the form of a cover panel 231 , for covering the dispensing opening 207, and a grip 232, for manipulating the slide 203, i.e. for moving the cover panel 231 between a first and a second position. A connector part 230 is connecting the cover panel 331 with the grip part 232.

The cover panel 221 of the slide 203 is provided in the interior space 206 and on top of the bottom panel 221 , such that the cover panel can slide along the bottom panel between a first position, in which it covers the dispensing opening in the bottom panel, and a second position, in which the dispensing opening is at least partially uncovered to enable products to be dispensed from the interior space through the dispensing opening and out of the tray. In the preferred embodiment shown, the grip 232, connector part 230 and cover panel 231 are all part of a blank 229. In the embodiment shown are folded from a cardboard blank . In an alternative embodiment, one or more of the components can be separate blanks, which are combined during production process, e.g. are folded, glued, or stitched together. In yet another embodiment according to the second aspect of the invention, the components are made of different materials. For example, the cover panel can be a cardboard panel, the connector part may comprise one or more wires, and the grip may be a plastic grip. In the exemplary embodiment shown in in figure 23 the tray 202 comprises first passage 208 in the front panel 224 of the tray 202. In an alternative embodiment of a tray assembly according to the second aspect of the invention, the first passage is provided between a side panel and the bottom panel.

In the preferred embodiment shown, the guide opening 208 is located near the bottom panel 221 of the tray, and the slide 203, more in particular the cover panel 231 and the connector part 230 of the slide, are located in the interior space 206, at least when the slide is in a first positon. The first passage 208 functions as a guide opening for guiding the slide 203, more in particular the connector part 230 of the slide 203, when the slide is moved from the first to the second position. In the embodiment shown, in the second position, only the cover panel 231 is located in the interior space 206, and the grip 232 and the connector part 229 are locate outside of the interior space 206.

By locating the grip outside the interior space, it is assured that the grip is available for a user to manipulate when the interior space is filled with products, e.g. cherry tomatoes or the like. The stackable tray 202 is an open top tray provided with corner sections 205 configured for supporting a similar tray stacked on top of it. These type of stackable trays, folded cardboard material and provided with corner sections configured for supporting multiple trays stacked on top of it, are known from the prior art. These trays are standardised trays and are typically used for transport and storage of agricultural products, and are part of an infrastructure, comprising transport devices, storage facilities and store equipment.

It is submitted that the second aspect of the invention, i.e. providing a stackable tray with a dispensing opening in its bottom panel and a slide for covering that dispensing opening having a grip that allows for manipulating the slide while the tray is filled with products, can be combined with known tray designs. Thus, the second aspect of the invention provides a tray that can be integrate into known infrastructure. In the exemplary embodiment shown, the slide 203, when in the first position, extends along a longitudinal axis of the tray 202, from the font panel 224 to the rear panel 225. The cover panel 231 of the slide 203 has a front side 211 and a rear side 212. The connector part 230 is located at the front side 211 of the cover panel 23 .

In the embodiment shown, the cover panel 231 has a rear edge at the rear side 212, which rear edge abuts the rear panel of the tray 202, when the slide is in the first position. Thus, the rear functions as a stop for positioning the cover panel 231 relative to the dispensing opening 207 when the slide 202 is in the first position. In the exemplary embodiment shown, the cover panel 231 has a tab 233 at the rear, which tab is received in a corresponding aperture or slot 234 provided in the rear panel of the tray, when the slide is in the first position. The tab and aperture position the cover panel relative to the dispensing opening when the slide is in the first position, and furthermore prevent the slide from falling out of the tray when it is turned upside down.

In figure 23, the tray 203 is depicted with the slide 203 in an intermediate position, that is between the first positon and the second positon. The slide 203 has been pulled out of the first position but still covers the dispensing opening 207.

In the embodiment shown, the dispensing opening is located near the front of the tray, and the slide has to be pulled almost entirely from the tray to uncover the dispensing opening. In an alternative embodiment, the slide is provided with a cut out, preferably similar in shape and size to the dispensing opening provided in the bottom panel, which cut out is concentric with the dispensing opening when the slide is in the second position. Thus, the slide can still be positioned against the rear panel of the tray when in the first position, but does not need to be pulled from the tray to such an extend as the slide shown in figure 23 for uncovering the dispensing opening.

In a further preferred embodiment, the slide is configured to block movement beyond the second position. Thus, the cut out in the slide can not be moved beyond the dispensing opening, and the cut out and the dispensing opening are simply aligned with each other by pulling the slide into the second positon.

For example, in an embodiment, the slide comprises a cover panel that has a width which is wider than a guide opening in a front panel of the tray, such that the cover panel abuts the front panel when the slide is in the second position. Furthermore, in such an embodiment the slide can not by y accident be pulled out of the tray through the guide opening, which would make it difficult to move the panel back into the first position, in particular when the tray comprises products. When the slide 203 is in the first positon, it covers the dispensing opening 207, and the grip part is folded alongside the front panel of the tray. Thus, the tray can be used for storing and transporting products. In this configuration the tray, which has an open top, can also be used in a display function, i.e. can be set up to provide consumers with the possibility to visually inspect the contents of the tray, and take products from the tray. It is submitted that stackable open top trays are used in supermarkets and the like for thus presenting products to consumers. The benefit being that there is no need for the products to be transferred from the transport tray into another container having a display function. In the exemplary embodiment shown, the tray 202 furthermore is provided with inserts in the form of ramps 210. The ramps have a triangular shaped cross section, and when placed on the bottom panel the top surface of the ramps extends at an angle with the bottom panel. The top surface thus form a ramp that, by way of gravity, guides products to the center of the tray, and thus towards the dispensing opening located on a central axis of the bottom panel of the tray. Thus, the panels promote dispensing products through the dispensing opening when the slide is in the second position.

Furthermore, in the embodiment shown, the dispensing opening is provided near the front of the bottom panel, to allow for products to be moved, by gravity, towards the dispensing opening by tilting the tray, more in particular by lifting the rear of the tray. In particular, in combination with the ramps discussed above, the tray is configured to guide products towards the dispensing opening.

Figure 25 shows a side view of a system for dispensing agricultural products 31 such as cherry tomatoes and similar semi spherical food products according to the second aspect of the second aspect of the invention. The system comprises the tray assembly 201 shown in figure 23 and an in-store self-service dispenser 301 to be operated by consumers, for dispensing cherry tomatoes and similar semi spherical food products.

The dispenser 301 comprises at its top side a filling opening 332 for receiving products to be dispensed from the tray assembly 202. The dispenser 301 is configured to support the tray 202 of the tray assembly 201 with the dispensing opening 207 of the tray 202 aligned with the filling opening 332 of the dispenser 301 , to enable the products 311 to be dispensed from the interior space 206 of the tray 202 via the dispensing opening 207 and into the dispenser 301 via the filling opening 332.

The in-store self-service dispenser is configured to be operated by consumers, for dispensing cherry tomatoes and similar semi spherical food products. It is submitted that self-service dispensers for dispensing cherry tomatoes are known from the prior art. Typically, these dispenser devices comprise a housing 302, a chute for dispensing products 311 and an actuator, in the embodiment shown in the form of handle 319, for actuating the dispenser, i.e. for dispensing products.

In the embodiment shown the housing 302 comprises a top compartment 321 and a bottom compartment 322, wherein the top compartment forms a hopper for storing products 311. In the embodiment shown, the hopper 303 is a transparent container mounted on the bottom compartment 322 of the housing. In an alternative embodiment, the hopper can be comprised in said housing, the hosing may define an interior space that functions as a hopper, etc.

The hopper 303 has a filling opening 332 at its top, and is configured for supporting the tray 202 with its dispensing opening 207 above the filling opening 332 of the hopper 303, as shown in figure 25.

In the particular embodiment shown, the hopper 303 and the tray assembly 201 comprise coupling devices, in the particular embodiment shown embodied in corner tabs 213, which coupling devices engage the tray 202, more in particular the corner sections of the tray, when the tray is mounted on top of the hopper 303. The corner tabs 213 thus position and secure the tray 202 on top of the hopper 303, with the dispensing opening 207 of the tray 202 aligned with the filling opening 332 of the dispenser 301 , in the embodiment shown being the filling opening of the hopper. In the preferred embodiment shown, the tray 202 is provided with a slide 203 having a grip 232 located at the front of the tray. Thus, when the tray 202 is mounted on top of the dispenser, the grip is located at the front of the dispenser and easy is easy to operate.

The system shown in figure 25 thus enables a method for dispensing agricultural product, preferably tomatoes, more preferably cherry tomatoes, according to the second aspect of the invention, the method comprising the steps of:

- positioning the tray 202, at least partially filled with products, on top of the dispenser 301 ;

- moving the slide 203 from the first slide position towards the second slide position, thus opening the dispensing opening 207 at the bottom of the tray 202; and

- transferring products 311 from the interior space 206 of the tray 202 via the dispensing opening 207 in the bottom panel 221 into the dispenser 301 , in the embedment shown into the hopper 303 of the dispenser 301. Once the products have been transferred into the dispenser, the dispenser can be used to dispense the products.

In an embodiment, after products have been transferred, the slide is moved into the first position and the tray is removed from the dispenser prior to the dispenser being used. The tray may still comprise products when being removed. For example if the hopper already comprised products, i.e. was not empty, the tray may hold more products than can be dispensed into the hopper.

Thus, the second aspect of the invention does provide a tray assembly configured for transporting and storing products, but also configured for easy transfer of products into another container, in particular into a device for dispensing products, in particular for dispensing agricultural products.

Furthermore, the second aspect of the invention can be implemented in with known tray designs. In particular, the second aspect of the invention allows for simply adding a dispensing opening and for example a guide opening to a blank of a prior art tray, and to combine that tray with a slide according to the second aspect of the invention, to thus provide a tray assembly according to the second aspect of the invention.

Also the second aspect of the invention can be incorporated with known tray designs without substantially changing the dimensions of those trays, thus enabling the use of prior art infrastructure, e.g. transport devices, storage devices, etc. designed for use with prior art stackable trays. Thus, a tray assembly according to the second aspect of the invention can be implemented with the need of rigorous changes to existing infrastructure. It is submitted that in the embodiment shown, the tray is placed on top of the hopper to fill the hopper and is subsequently removed. Thus, the hopper comprises the products to be dispensed and the tray is as such not a functional component of the dispenser.

In an alternative embodiment, the dispenser may comprise a hopper with a limited volume, for example less than the volume of the tray, or the dispenser is provided with no hopper. In such an embodiment, the tray can function as a partial hopper, i.e. as an extension of the storage volume of the dispenser, or even as the hopper, i.e. form the storage of the dispenser. In the latter embodiment, the for example the products may be dispensed from the tray directly onto a conveyor for dispensing the products through the chute. In such an embodiment, the tray is a functional component of the dispenser. In an embodiment, the filling opening is provided with closure means, e.g. a latch, slide or similar component, to close the filling opening when the filling opening is not being used for receiving products, e.g. when there is no tray stacked on top of the hopper. Figure 26 schematically shows a perspective view of another exemplary embodiment of a tray assembly 401 according to the second aspect of the invention, and Figure 27 schematically shows an exploded view of that tray assembly 401.

The tray assembly 401 comprises a stackable tray 402 and a slide 403. The tray 402 comprises four side panels, i.e. a left side panel 422, a right side panel 423, a front panel 424 and a rear panel 425, and a bottom panel 421 . The side panels and bottom panel define an interior space 406 for holding products.

According to the second aspect of the invention, the bottom panel 421 is provided with a dispensing opening 407 for dispensing products held in the interior space, through the dispensing opening, at a bottom side of the tray 402.

In the embodiment shown, the slide 403 comprises a cover portion in the form of a cover panel 431 , for covering the dispensing opening 407, and a double grip 432, i.e. one grip provided at the left side of the tray and one grip provided at the right side of the tray, for manipulating the slide 403, i.e. for moving the cover panel 431 between a first and a second position. A connector part 430 is connecting the cover panel 331 with the grip part 432, which connector part in the embodiment shown is the part of the slide extending along the inside of the side walls of the tray.

The cover panel 421 of the slide 403 is provided in the interior space 406 and on top of the bottom panel 421 , such that the cover panel can slide along the bottom panel between a first position shown in figure 26, in which it covers the dispensing opening in the bottom panel, and a second position, in which the dispensing opening is at least partially uncovered to enable products to be dispensed from the interior space through the dispensing opening and out of the tray.

In the particular embodiment shown, the tray assembly 401 is furthermore provided with a top bottom panel 408, e.g. in the form of an inlay, which top bottom panel 408 comprises a dispensing opening concentric with the dispensing opening 407 in the bottom panel 421 , and which top bottom panel 408 is located on top of the slide 403. According to this embodiment of the second aspect of the invention, the slide 403 may advantageously be moved between the bottom panel 421 and the top bottom panel 408 when moved from the first position into the second position. When a top bottom panel 408 is provided on top of the slide 403, the products in the tray are stored on the top bottom panel. This results in less damage to the products when the slide 403 is moved between its first slide position and its second slide position. Although an inlay makes the tray assembly more expensive, this may thus be beneficial.

Furthermore, in the embodiment shown, left side panel 422 and the right side panel 423 are provided with recess for receiving part of the grips 432 of the slide 403. Thus, with the grips received in said recesses, the slide is prevented from sliding out of the first position. Only after the grips have been folded out of the recesses, the slide can be moved, i.e. can be slid into the second position, the tray assembly is thus provided with a securing device for securing the slide in the first position, and thus preventing the slide from being moved out of the first position by accident, for example during transport of products. In the embodiment shown in figure 24 this is achieved by providing a securing opening 234.

In an alternative embodiment, the securing device comprises a glue, that attaches the slide preferably the grip of the slide, to the tray. Prior to using the slide, the glued section is torn loose. Such an embodiment has the drawback that is should be installed during manufacture, and allows for single use only. One undone, the securing device, i.e. the glue, can not be used aging. Further alternatives are also possible, for example using a peg or tape, etc. for securing the slide in the first position. However, in a preferred embodiment, he slide is secured in the first position by folding part of the slide and/or inserting part of the slide in a slot, e.g. a securing opening. This provides a simple and robust securing device, that can be used multiple times and is easy to manufacture when the slide assembly is made out of blanks, for example out of blanks of cardboard material.