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The present patent application claims priority from and the benefit of U.S. Provisional Patent Application No. 60/955,225, filed Aug. 10, 2008, and entitled Product Display System for Packaged Products and Method of Use Thereof, which prior application is hereby incorporated herein by reference.
This invention relates to a product display system for packaged products, also known as a merchandiser, for storing and displaying packaged products, and more particularly, to a merchandiser with extendible product drawers that can be pulled out and tilted downwards while the product pusher withdraws to facilitate restocking operations.
Display systems are commonly used in supermarkets, grocery stores, and other retail establishments as aids in the sale of various food and commercial items. One of the most commonly known uses of merchandisers is a display system for grated cheese pouches and small individually packaged roadside snacks. When perishable food items with limited shelf life are sold, special attention must be paid to the rotation of product. Semitransparent plastic pouches, expiration date markings, and efficient rotation of pouches are designed to prevent the sale of stale food items. In display systems, food items are often organized with the oldest product in front in an effort to ensure a first in, first out rotation.
To optimize the freshness of products on the store shelves, restocking of products is made by adding new, fresher pouches to the back of the merchandiser and pushing older products to the front of the display where the first in line should be removed and purchased by the consumer. Savvy consumers in search of the freshest product possible may scavenge to the back of the display system in an attempt to select food pouches with later expiration dates. A first design parameter of merchandiser is to thwart “back-grab” efforts of consumers without unduly frustrating them.
Merchandisers must also be restocked regularly. Restocking operations are generally conducted by employees after business hours or during hours of low activity. Cardboard boxes are pulled from the storage facility on flat trolleys and brought to the merchandiser location where products can be restocked. Employees are meant to conduct a visual inspection of the remaining food items in each section of a merchandiser, remove stale or damaged food items, and restock with fresh products. A box is opened and fresh pouches are placed on shelves, rods, or hooks rapidly and efficiently to expedite restocking operations. Some product displays, in an effort to prevent “grab-back,” secure pouches in the product holder using a long metal rod inserted in a hole in the top of pouches.
Because the front end of the rod must remain unblocked to enable removal of pouches by customers and so that products are allowed to slide to the front of the display system, the rod is attached at the back end where fresh products are restocked. Using this technology, employees who punch and align holes of pouches and manage product alignment on the rod experience a time-consuming operation. Other merchandisers simply let the pouches rest on the bottom portion of the product holder and include a product pusher mechanism to gently slide pouches to the front when pouches are removed for purchase. Product pushers are also designed to quickly fill in any gaps left by the removal of products from the display to prevent the replacement of the pouch by uncertain customers.
During restocking operations, the product pusher hinders the placement of fresh products because it must be pushed back using a first hand while the restocking employee is left with only one hand to remove fresh pouches from the box on the floor, inspect the pouches, and restock the product display. This second merchandiser design parameter often conflicts with the requirements of the design parameter explained earlier.
Third, stores generally own standard shelves with vertical uprights and legs. These shelves are designed to be easily adjusted to different heights. Once again, “grab-back” is hindered by limiting empty shelf space above products, but limited shelf space also results in unwanted obstruction to the restocking employee. When stocking product on such shelves, the old product must be pushed to the front. Such manual rotations are time consuming, onerous, and consequently not always performed by hurried employees. In addition, pouches may deform slightly under their weight when stored horizontally. The enclosed food item migrates to the bottom of the pouch, and as a consequence, thickens the average pouch. Fewer pouches can be restocked in a horizontal orientation compared to a vertical orientation. As a consequence, restocking employee may compact pouches by pushing them. For example, pouches with grated cheese may be boxed horizontally with only 5 to 10 pouches resting on the bottom pouch, each having a thickness of one inch. When the restocking agent opens the box and grabs pouches, the cheese shifts or settles to the bottom portion of the pouch, which changes the pouch to a thickness of one and a half inches when oriented horizontally. As a consequence, fewer pouches can be restocked, resulting in a loss of efficiency of the restocking operation. A third merchandisers design parameter, which often conflicts with the two design parameters described above, is to maintain the geometry of packaged food items during restocking operations or allow restocking employees better control over how food items are handled during the operation.
Merchandisers often promote the sale of specific trade items by having a front surface where a label or advertisement is displayed. Exclusive use of the shelving space is thus reserved by an advertiser of a specific food item at the cost of installing the merchandiser on a portion of a shelf. Alternatives include the use of the box as a display or a neat alignment of products on a shelf with labels displayed conspicuously. Costly or bulky merchandisers that cannot fit or replace existing shelving are an investment that often discourages merchants from using this technology. A fourth design parameter of merchandisers, often conflicting with the first three, is the obligation to create a cheap, light, modular system that can easily be implemented at a point of sale. This obligation may conflict with the experience of restocking employees, who work at night in hurried conditions and who may not be given adequate training on how to operate merchandisers. Accordingly, light, cheap, modular systems are often fragile and disfavored over expensive, heavy, fixed systems capable of withstanding conditions of heavy use in retail spaces. What is needed is a merchandiser that is light and cheap yet sturdy. The merchandiser must prevent “grab-back” without hindering restocking operations. The system must also be easy to adapt and install on existing or new shelves.
Various systems have been developed over the years to facilitate automatic shifting of product toward the front of the store shelving, such systems typically employing product pushers such as that described in U.S. Pat. No. 5,450,969 assigned to Gamon International, Inc. Other systems, such as that shown in U.S. Pat. No. 6,164,462, rely on gravity feeds or systems that allow for the free movement of products. Still other systems employ pull-out or extendible drawers to facilitate stocking of product and product rotation. These known systems require greater vertical clearance to allow the product to drop under its own weight and may allow a consumer to easily pull or push part of the system to grab the freshest product in the back of the display.
U.S. Pat. No. 5,123,546 discloses a pull-out product tray that is in slidable engagement with tracks affixed to a shelf. A product pusher is slidably mounted in the tray. A coil spring is affixed at one end to the pusher and at the other end to the front portion of the tray to displace product forward toward the front of the tray. When the tray needs to be restocked, it can be manually slid horizontally along the tracks to an off-shelf position. The product pusher is prevented from off-shelf travel by means of a travel stop so that as the tray is further moved the pusher remains at a static position relative to the shelf, thereby creating a gap between the pusher and the front of the tray so that new product can be placed in the gap. This mechanism suffers a number of drawbacks. No means of preventing consumers from gaining access to the freshest product located at the rear of the tray is provided. That is, the consumer can easily pull the tray out to gain access. Also, restocking is made difficult because the coil spring applies a retraction force to the tray when it is pulled off the shelf. Thus, the restocking employee must hold the tray in an extended position with one hand while attempting to add new product with the other. In addition, because the pusher no longer engages product as the tray is being fully extended, product remaining in the tray can tip and slide.
What is needed is a new product display system for packaged products and a method of use thereof that takes into consideration all of the above design parameters and failings, allows for easy restocking, prevents “back-grab,” and is implemented easily, quickly, and cheaply while maintaining sufficient durability and simplicity of use to withstand hazards of actual retail environments.
This invention relates to a product display system for packaged products, also known as a merchandiser, for storing and displaying products, and more particularly, to a merchandiser with extendible product drawers that can be pulled out, tilted downwards, and held in place under their own weight while the back product pusher remains drawn away to facilitate restocking of product in the merchandiser. The merchandiser includes a pull-out drawer, or a product holder slideably secured to a part of the shelf, that allows the merchandiser a partial downward rotation in a restocking position using a restrictor means in the form of a U-shaped ring located either on the product pusher or the product holder. The display system further includes a nesting tab for securing the display in the display position on the shelf, and a product pusher in biasing relation with the front edge of the shelf for improved access in the restocking position.
The invention may be best understood by reference to the following description taken in conjunction with the accompanying drawings. In the figures, like reference numerals identify like elements.
FIG. 1 an isometric view of a three-by-four array of the product display system mounted within a product display interface with shelving and a missing product display system as contemplated by an embodiment of the present disclosure.
FIG. 2 is an isometric view of a four-by-four array of the product display system with shelving but without the product display interface as contemplated by another embodiment of the present disclosure.
FIG. 3 is a side view of the array of product display systems of FIG. 2 according to an embodiment of the present disclosure.
FIG. 4 is a functional side view of one product display system of FIG. 1 in the display position with the product pusher partly pushed back for display purposes and with a restrictor means connected to the product pusher according to an embodiment of the present disclosure.
FIG. 5 is a functional side view of the product display system as shown in FIG. 4 with the product pusher pushed further back within the product display system with shaded product pouches according to an embodiment of the present disclosure.
FIG. 6 is a functional side view of the product display system as shown in FIG. 4 with the product pusher pushed almost completely back within the product display system with shaded product pouches according to an embodiment of the present disclosure.
FIGS. 7F to 7F are successive views taken of successive positions of the product display system from a display position of FIG. 7A to the open but horizontal position of FIG. 7C to the dropped restocking position of FIG. 7D and back to the display position of FIG. 7F associated with the restocking method associated with the product display system of FIG. 4 according to an embodiment of the present disclosure.
FIG. 8 is a top symbolic view of the product display system as shown in FIG. 4 with the right product pusher illustrated as almost fully pushed back and the left product pusher as almost fully pushed forward according to an embodiment of the present disclosure.
FIG. 9 is the top symbolic view of the product display system as shown in FIG. 8 with shaded product pouches placed within the product display system according to an embodiment of the present disclosure.
FIG. 10 is a detailed perspective view of the biasing element of the product pusher of the product display system as shown in FIG. 4 according to an embodiment of the present disclosure.
FIG. 11 is a side view of the product pusher and associated restrictor means according to an embodiment of the present disclosure.
FIG. 12 is a top view of the product pusher as shown in FIG. 11 and associated restrictor means according to an embodiment of the present disclosure.
FIG. 13 is a perspective view of a shelf for holding a plurality of product display systems as shown in FIG. 4 according to an embodiment of the present disclosure.
FIG. 14 is a right side view of a support truss from the shelf as shown in FIG. 13 according to an embodiment of the present disclosure.
FIG. 15 is an elevation view of the shelf as shown in FIG. 13 according to an embodiment of the present disclosure.
FIG. 16 is a top schematic view of the product display system as shown in FIG. 7C according to an embodiment of the present disclosure.
FIG. 17 is a perspective view of the product display system as shown in FIG. 4 according to an embodiment of the present disclosure.
FIG. 18 is a functional side view of the product display system as shown in FIG. 1 with the product pusher pushed almost completely back within the product display system with shaded product pouches and the restrictor means connected to the back end of the product display system according to another embodiment of the present disclosure.
FIGS. 19A to 19F are successive views taken of successive positions of the product display system from a display position as shown in FIG. 19A to the open but horizontal position of FIG. 19C to the dropped restocking position of FIG. 19D and back to the display position of FIG. 19F associated with the restocking method associated with the product display system as shown in FIG. 18 according to another embodiment of the present disclosure.
FIG. 20 is a side view of the product pusher without the restrictor means according to another embodiment of the present disclosure.
FIG. 21 is a top view of the product pusher as shown in FIG. 20 without the restrictor means according to another embodiment of the present disclosure.
FIG. 22 is a partial back perspective view of the product display system as shown in FIG. 1 according to another embodiment of the present disclosure.
For the purpose of promoting and understanding the principles disclosed herein, reference will now be made to the preferred embodiments illustrated in the drawings, and specific language will be used to describe the same. It is nevertheless understood that no limitation of the scope of the actual invention is intended by the description of suggested embodiments. Such alterations and further modifications in the illustrated device and such further applications of the principles disclosed as illustrated herein are contemplated as would normally occur to one skilled in the art to which this disclosure relates.
FIG. 1 is an isometric view of a three-by-four array of the product display system 100 with a single product holder 1 having two side-by-side display sections as mounted within a product display interface 200 with standard shelving as stationary supports 4. For enhanced understanding, one of the product holders 1 on the upper left of the display interface 200 has been removed, and the product holder 1 located immediately under the removed holder 1 is positioned in the restocking position at a slightly tilted angle. The product display interface 200 includes an upper frame 101 and a lower frame 102 to serve as supports of the structure but also to house promotional material or design features to promote sales of the food items located in the different product holders 1. On the left side of the product display interface 200 is shown as an alternate support structure 2, namely, a vertical metal bar with connection holes with a leg 3 for holding the stationary supports 4. The system as shown is equipped with locking male and female tabs as commonly used in the shelving industry. What is contemplated and disclosed is the use of any type of product display interface 200 and support structure 2 designed to hold shelving or any other type of food item using product holders 1. In addition, what is also contemplated is the use of flat, stationary supports 4 of surface configuration similar to the stationary support 4 shown in FIG. 13 but of a smaller thickness capable of placement and fixation over otherwise ordinary shelves found in the marketplace for rapid adaptation of the current disclosure to off-the-shelf shelving units. What is also shown of FIG. 1 in the lower two rows of product holders 1 are drawers filled with rectangular shaded boxes, which simulate the presence of food items in the product holders 1.
FIG. 17 is a perspective view of a single product holder 1 according to an embodiment of the present disclosure. FIG. 2 shows how a plurality of the product holders 1 shown in FIG. 17 along with the associated stationary support structure 4 can be stacked or arranged. The array of sixteen product holders 1, each including two display areas, is formed by the union of three panels 11. While one possible configuration of product holders 1 is shown having two display areas for the placement of food items 300 as shown in FIG. 1 confined by three panels 11 creating two display areas, as shown, for example, in FIG. 9, what is contemplated is any configuration of product holders 1 having any number of areas of storage arranged along horizontal stationary support structures 4, vertical support structures, or any other support structure 4 capable of holding product holders 1.
FIG. 3 is a side view of the array of product display systems 100 as shown in FIG. 2. The system 100 is shown with only the stationary support structures 4 located between each of the product holders 1. What is shown is structure 4 with lock tabs 9 for attachment to the vertical support structure 2 as shown in FIG. 1. FIG. 3 also shows how, if the lock tabs 9 are attached to a wider section of the support structure 4, then the corresponding height of the panels 11 can be reduced to fit in position in the display position. The panels 11 may be made of a thin, molded layer of plastic, PVC, aluminum, or other material attached via a series of connectors 34 as shown from the top in FIG. 8 and in perspective in FIG. 17. The connectors 34 are made of light stainless metal, such as stainless steel, aluminum, or plated iron, which can be affixed to the panels 11 using slide locks 36 as shown in FIG. 17 or encasings as shown in FIG. 8. In one embodiment, two connectors 34 connect the upper end portions 122 of adjacent panels 11 and two connectors 34 connect the lower end portion 123 of adjacent panels 11. FIG. 8 shows how other types of attachment systems 36 for the connectors 34 are contemplated. What is disclosed is the use of any type of connectors 34 along with any type of attachment system 36 to secure and assemble flat panels, such as the panels 11, at a fixed distance to provide sufficient structure to maintain the product holder 1 in position.
FIG. 17 also shows how openings 19 can be added in the form of an array of rectangular holes molded in the panels 11 in an effort to reduce weight while retaining the rigidity the structure. Openings 19 also serve to provide aeration, enhance grasping of the product holder 1, and increase the transparency of the entire display system 100. What is also shown is the use of a bent advertising surface 10 with openings 33 and a support ledge 51. In one contemplated embodiment shown in FIGS. 8-9, the back surface of the surface 10 includes a U-shaped clip-lock supporting means 38 that is molded in the reverse shape of the connectors 34 on the front end 120 to allow for the surface 10 to be pushed and clipped in to the connectors 34 and thus the product holder 1. The use of deformable tabs and clips to assemble different structural elements of the product holder 1 is contemplated. By way of nonlimiting example, the two connectors 34 attached to the rear end 121 can be replaced by a flat, molded panel of plastic assembled using deformable tabs and clip technology. The bent advertising surface 10 can be made to rotate, warp, move, or be removably connected as shown by arrows on either side of the product holder 1 shown in FIG. 8. While the surface 10 is shown as a medium-height panel to be locked onto the front end of the holder 1, what is contemplated is the use of any type of transparent, semitransparent, or opaque casing around any portion of the periphery of the product holder 1 as shown in FIG. 17 and as defined by the upper end portion 122, the lower end portion 123, the front end 120, and the rear end 121.
FIG. 4 includes a stationary support 4 having front rail 30 and a rear rail 8. The display system 100 also includes a product holder 1 carried by said stationary support 4 having a plurality of panels 11, each having a front end 120, a rear end 121, an upper end portion 122, and a lower end portion 123. The product holder 1 further includes connectors 34 linking the panels 11 in spaced parallel relation as shown in FIG. 9 and a product pusher 12 disposed between adjacent panels 11 in slidable engagement with the lower end portions 123 thereof for movement between the rear end 121 and front end 120 of the panels 11. FIGS. 4-6 show dynamically how the product pusher 12 slides along the lower end portion 123. The product holder 1 also includes a spring means 13 connected to the stationary support 4 at a tab 21 and the product pusher 12 to move the product pusher 12 toward the front end 120 of the stationary support 4.
FIG. 10 shows a perspective view of one possible spring means 13 shown to be a long, flat coil spring having a coil region 127 and a flat hook portion 14 attached via the hook 20 to the front rail 30. FIG. 8 shows how the spring means 13 is either attached or allowed to rest against the back side of the product pusher 12 shown in detail in FIG. 11. The spring means 13 is slid through a positioning notch 39 as shown in FIG. 12 and allowed to uncoil as the product pusher 12 is displaced to the back of the product holder 1. The hook portion 14 in one contemplated embodiment is hooked and secured to a raised tab 21 made in the front rail 126 of the support 4. While one type of spring means 13 is shown, what is contemplated is the use of any type of biasing element or spring means 13 capable of creating a force opposed to the movement of the product pusher 12 away from the front rail 126 and any type of attachment means or spring means 13 that is designed to displace the product pusher 12 toward the front rail 126.
The stationary support 4 as shown in FIGS. 13-15 includes a frame with a rear rail 125, a front rail 126, and a pair of side rails 137 connected to and extending between the rear rail 125 and the front rail 126. The stationary support 4 also includes a series of elongated members 6, shown as flat strips of metal or made of the same material as the stationary support 4, attached to the rear rail 125 and hanging under the surface of the front rail 126 as shown in FIG. 4. In one embodiment, the elongated member 6 is pushed down at the proximity or under the front rail 126 to allow part of a restrictor means 16 either attached to the product pusher 12 or to the rear end 121 of the product holder 1 to encircle the elongated member 6. In yet another embodiment (not shown), the elongated member 6 is welded at both ends to the stationary support 4 and the restrictor means 16 secured to the product pusher 12 of the rear end 121 after it is placed around the elongated member 6.
What is contemplated is the use of a restrictor means 16 attached to the product holder 1 or one of its components capable of preventing lifting of the part of the product holder 1 connected to the restrictor means 16 from the elongated member 6. In one embodiment, FIGS. 11-12 show how a U-shaped metal device is used as the restrictor means 16 and is placed under the elongated member 6 shown in dashed lines, held at rotation point 36, and inserted 40 into the product pusher 12. FIG. 11 shows further how the product pusher 12 is designed with a slit 38 to slide along part of the lower end portion 123. The restrictor means 16 may be any locking, holding, grasping, or sliding hook, hoop, U shape, C shape, V shape, bend, or folding element that allows some level of tolerance between the product holder 1 and the stationary support 4 to allow the product holder 1 to move into the restocking position.
What is also disclosed and shown, for example, in FIG. 4, is a seating means for establishing a normal position of the product holder 1 on the stationary support 4. Horizontal movement of the product holder 1 on the support 4 is restricted in the rear by at least the back tab 23 and in the front by at least the front tab 17 relative to the stationary support 4. While one possible embodiment is shown, what is contemplated is the use of any seating means, such as but not limited to magnetic sections, frictional forces, adhesives, extruding tabs, or notches.
FIGS. 7A-7F illustrate in six successive positions of a product holder 1 as it is being restocked. In FIG. 7A, three food items 300 are shown in a first display area. The product pusher 12 is located close to the front rail 30 of the support 4. The restrictor means 16 encircles the elongated member 6. In a first step, the product holder 1 is lifted from any seating means such as the back tab 23 and the front tab 17 and then pulled as shown in FIG. 7B. In this second figure, a group of 9 food items 300 is shown as being capable of placement within the display area. The user engaged in restocking can either simply place the food items in the display area as shown or pull the product holder 1 until it reaches an external position shown in FIG. 7C.
In a subsequent position, the product holder 1 is tilted downwards as shown in FIG. 7D at an angle determined by the length of the restrictor means 16. The lower end portion 123 of the product holder 1 pivots down over the front rail 30. When the product holder 1 is tilted downwards, the food items 300, even if flexible and unable to hold their shape under gravity, can be placed and stacked against the bent advertising surface 10 until the display area is full. FIGS. 7E-7F show how the product holder 1 is then tilted back up before it is pushed back into its seating and display position. If only a limited amount of food items 300 are placed by the user in the display area, then the product pusher 12 does not move back up to the rear rail 8 but remains in an intermediate position as shown in FIG. 7F. What is shown is a general concept as embodied in a single embodiment. What is contemplated is the use of any structure capable of operating under the same principles, including but not limited to a product holder 1 that is attached to the underside of a top support 4 and tilts downwards through similar structure, or a product holder 1 that is pulled from a vertical support 4 where a downward tilt can also be made of the product holder 1 in the external position. Similar configurations are seen from a top view as shown in FIGS. 8-9 and 16. FIGS. 8-9 illustrate how the product holder 1 in one possible embodiment can have two adjacent display areas filled at different levels by food items 300.
In yet another embodiment, the seating means includes downwardly projecting bumpers such as tabs 17, 23 located on the underside of the panels 11 that respectively abut the rear rail 8 and the front rail 30 when the holder 1 is at its normal or display position on the support 4. The restrictor means 16 operates in tandem and includes the elongated member 6 extending between the rear rail 8 and the front rail 30, as well as a loop member as shown in FIG. 10 encircling the elongated member 6 and having opposed ends affixed to the product pusher 12. In another embodiment shown in FIGS. 18-22, the restrictor means 16 operates in tandem and includes the elongated member 6 extending between the rear rail 8 and the front rail 30, as well as a loop member as shown in FIG. 22 encircling the elongated member 6 and having opposed ends affixed to the rear end 121 of the product holder 1. While two different embodiments having two different restrictor means 16 are shown, what is contemplated is the use of different types of restrictor means 16 as described herebefore.
What is also disclosed is a display system 100 for products packaged in pouches 300, the pouches assuming a pillow shape when filled and having a height and a width as shown. The system includes a stationary support 4 having front rails 30, rear rails 8, and a product holder 1 carried by said support 4 with a plurality of panels 11, each having a front end 120, a rear end 121, an upper end portion 122, and a lower end portion 123. The upper end portion 122 is spaced from said lower end portion 123 a distance about equal to the height of the pouches 300.
The display system 300 also includes connectors 34 linking the panels 11 in parallel relation and spaced apart at a distance about equal to said width of the pouches 300, a product pusher 12 disposed between adjacent panels 11 in slidable engagement with the lower end portions 123 thereof for movement between the rear end 121 and front ends 120 of the panels 11, and a spring means 13 connected to the stationary support 4 and the product pusher 12 to displace the product pusher 12 toward the front end 120 of the stationary support. The product holder 1 also includes a sign placed on the bent advertising surface 10 extending between said panels 11 near the front ends 120 thereof, wherein the sign extends from the lower end portions 123 of the panels to about one half said height as shown.
Persons of ordinary skill in the art appreciate that although the teachings of the disclosure have been illustrated in connection with certain embodiments, there is no intent to limit the invention to such embodiments. On the contrary, the intention of this disclosure is to cover all modifications and embodiments failing fairly within the scope of the teachings of the disclosure.