Printed inserts for thermoformed plastic disposable food containers
Kind Code:

A beverage container lid has an insert area for placement of a paper insert with graphics printed thereon.

Melton, Bruce W. (Hinsdale, IL, US)
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International Classes:
B65D51/24; G09F23/00; (IPC1-7): A47G19/22
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Primary Examiner:
Attorney, Agent or Firm:

What is claimed is:

1. A lid for a beverage container, comprising: a container attachment portion for attachment to an associated beverage container, a cover portion extending radially inward from said container attachment portion, a drinking opening formed in said cover portion, and an insert area formed in said cover portion, said insert area positioned to hold a separate paper insert with graphics printed thereon.


[0001] This application claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Application Serial No. 60/225,122 filed Aug. 14, 2000.


[0002] Thermoformed plastic disposable food containers, trays, plates, cups, and cup lids, clamshell boxes and the like (collectively, “thermoformed disposable food containers”) are becoming increasingly common. From a manufacturing point of view, thermoformed containers have distinct advantages over other types of plastic containers, chiefly, those that are injection-molded. For example, thermoformed disposable food containers are thinner, lighter, and use less resin material than injection-molded containers. A variety of resins and pigments are available, singly or in combination that can be used to produce a variety of colors and degrees of transparency in thermoformed disposable food containers, from black to crystal clear, and some current clamshell designs use two different colors bonded together. Thermoforming also involves a one-sided mold, substantially reducing moldmaking costs when compared to the two-sided mold needed for injection molding. But, most important of all, thermoforming is substantially faster than injection-molding.

[0003] From a foodservice operator's point of view, thermoformed disposable food containers are beneficial because they are widely available, relatively inexpensive, stack in a fairly compact way, and are highly effective at containing foods and liquids.

[0004] The state of the art in thermoforming today, however, has its drawbacks. With rare exception, thermoformed disposable food containers cannot be economically manufactured in small quantities. Indeed, successful thermoformers aim to run one thermoforming “line” running with the same mold 24 hours a day for months on end. The result is that all thermoformed disposable food containers basically look alike. Because it is difficult to differentiate thermoformed disposable food containers unless they have a unique, patented functional feature, this type of “commodity” thermoforming is highly competitive.

[0005] Thus, from a food service provider's point of view, thermoformed disposable food containers are viewed as little more than efficient food packaging. With rare exception, foodservice retailers use “stock” cup lids, clamshell boxes, and the like because custom thermoforming is much more costly. For example, a restaurant that wanted to include its name in a thermoformed food container would need to have a mold made (or an insert to a larger mold made) specifically for that customer's use. Because the mold must be tailored to an individual customer's needs, mold costs are relatively high, and the cost to the manufacturer of turning off its thermoforming line to change molds for different customers is also substantial. Finally, because so few thermoformers will undertake low-volume “custom” work, the costs of shipping thermoformed disposable food containers from a far-off custom thermoformer can be relatively high. Putting aside the higher costs of custom thermoformed disposable food containers, the technology offers no opportunity for the use of a contrasting color and, because the mold for each letter of text or recessed area of an image must have a vacuum hole, it is difficult and prohibitively expensive to produce a thermoforming mold with more than a few words of text or a simple image.

[0006] In today's foodservice market, however, branding and image is essential. Foodservice retailers invariably print logos, custom designs, entertainment “tie-in” promotions, and the like on paper bags and cups. Cup lids and thermoformed plastic food containers are, however, typically the same from retailer to retailer. In many instances, the thermoformed disposable plastic food container is the foodservice operator's last link to its customers: they sip through cup lids and they eat or serve from the clamshell box or deli tray. Some foodservice operators have used printed, adhesive-backed stickers to enhance the appearance of thermoformed disposable plastic food containers, such as sandwich boxes and deli trays, but this method of customization is expensive, has significant size limitations, and the final appearance of the package depends on the skill with which the foodservice employee attaches the sticker. The glossy look of most stickers might also be unappealing in certain situations, e.g., on the top of a hot cup lid. Some thermoformers are printing directly on the plastic during the manufacturing process, but, again, these technologies are complicated due to the nature of the hot plastic, the molding process, and the presence of static electricity. And, even without these limitations, changing from one custom-printed thermoforming job to another will be quite costly because the thermoforming line must be shut down during the transition process.


[0007] The present invention takes advantage of the “quantities of scale” offered by thermoforming and combines it with low-cost and widely available flat paper printing technologies to overcome many of the “image” disadvantages of thermoformed disposable food containers today. The invention is a shallow recess incorporated into existing or new thermoforming molds; this recess, when combined with a small snap “rim,” would accommodate thin printed cards. The cards could be printed, embossed, or otherwise marked on a wide variety of materials, including plastic, foil, and films, although paper would most likely be the least expensive and the most popular. The snap “rim” is indicated in FIGS. 14-16.


[0008] FIG. 1 shows a hot dome lid insert;

[0009] FIG. 1A shows a side view of a hot dome lid insert;

[0010] FIG. 2 shows a hot dome lid insert;

[0011] FIG. 2A shows a dome lid insert;

[0012] FIG. 3 shows a hot flat lid insert;

[0013] FIG. 3A shows a side view of a hot flat lid insert;

[0014] FIG. 4 shows a cold lid insert;

[0015] FIG. 4a shows a side view of a cold lid insert;

[0016] FIG. 5 shows a cold lid insert;

[0017] FIG. 5a shows a side view of a cold lid insert;

[0018] FIG. 6 shows a cold lid insert;

[0019] FIG. 6a shows a side view of a cold lid insert;

[0020] FIG. 7 shows a clamshell box;

[0021] FIG. 7A shows a side view of a clamshell box;

[0022] FIG. 8A shows a clamshell box wit multiple insert rims;

[0023] FIG. 8B shows a side view of a clamshell box with multiple insert rims;

[0024] FIG. 9A shows a deli tray;

[0025] FIG. 9B shows a side view of a deli tray;

[0026] FIG. 10A shows a plastic plate or deli tray bottom;

[0027] FIG. 10B shows a side view of a plastic plate;

[0028] FIG. 11 shows a thermoformed container top with large insert panel;

[0029] FIG. 12 shows a thermoformed container top with small insert panel, enhances display of container contents;

[0030] FIG. 13 shows a thermoformed container top with small insert area for standard-size business card;

[0031] FIG. 14 shows a side view of a printed card on top of container;

[0032] FIG. 15 shows a side view of a printed card on bottom of container;

[0033] FIG. 16 shows finger indents for card removal;

[0034] FIG. 16A shows a side view of finger indents for card removal;

[0035] FIG. 16B shows a top view of finger indents for card removal;


[0036] As indicated in FIGS. 1 through 13, the foregoing snap rim/printed card invention has wide application in thermoformed plastic disposable hot cup lids, cold cup lids, clamshell boxes, deli trays, and plates. The invention covers all of these embodiments and any other in which a recess and snap rim are molded into a thermoformed disposable food container for purposes of accepting a flat card. The insert includes sip hole 1, paper inner lid 3 and recessed flange 5.

[0037] The shallow recess and rim could be molded into current thermoformed molds with only minor modifications and without detracting from the appearance of the finished product. Indeed, most thermoformed disposable food containers already incorporate inset panels to add strength and enhance appearance. Thus, a thermoformed disposable food container could be modified slightly to incorporate the new technology, and the packaging would be as useful as it was before even if the foodservice operator did not want to use custom-printed inserts in the container.

[0038] Custom-printed inserts would, however, offer foodservice operators significant advantages. Visually, a printed insert, in up to four colors, would be far more eye-catching than a plain “commodity” thermoformed plastic disposable food container. The insert could be customized not only to identify the foodservice operator and reinforce its “brand image,” but also to serve as a convenient removable “coupon,” advertising flyer, or self-addressed feedback card—uses for which the current labeling alternative, self-adhesive stickers, are impractical. In this regard, FIGS. 16A and 16B indicate a thermoformed recess and snap rim that has small indents around the periphery of the printed card to allow for easy removal. A small tab 7 could also be included in the printed card to facilitate removal, as indicated in FIG. 3. The insert cards could also serve as games, toys, or collectibles. For example, the donut-shaped insert in FIG. 6 could be printed to depict a flying saucer toy that could be removed and used by a child after the beverage is consumed. Another embodiment would be to use a card that, when likely, just before the formed and slightly cooled pieces are die-cut) or after the thermoforming (either mechanically or by hand). Equally important, however, is the prospect of allowing foodservice operators to contract for their own printing in the standard sizes. Thus, a foodservice operator could customize the lids themselves, adding the printed cards at some point in the preparation and serving process. For the smallest foodservice operators, the insert cards could be produced with a personal computer and an attached printer. Again, it is anticipated that the shapes and sizes of the insert cards would, ideally, follow standard printing formats, e.g., business cards, 4×5 inch notecards, half sheets of paper, and the like, to simplify the printing process and utilize card stock most efficiently.

[0039] None of the inconveniences and costs associated with custom thermoforming applies to conventional printed card inserts. Print shops are numerous and widespread, certainly more so than thermoformers. Indeed, printing is a highly competitive and price sensitive industry; if anything, it is more of a “commodity” business than the thermoforming industry. Printing allows virtually photographic detail and fine-point text. Four-color graphics are visually exciting and permit images to be rendered quite realistically.

[0040] In short, the use of a printed card insert and a shallow snap rim design in a thermoformed disposable food container would allow virtually unlimited customization of thermoformed disposable food packaging without it affecting the speed and efficiency of a thermoforming line or a printing line. The technologies could be combined in the thermoforming process, by the thermoformer after the container has been cut and before it is packaged, by a separate jobber prior to final delivery, or by the foodservice operator immediately before serving. The invention thus offers new opportunities for customizing food packaging at a relatively low cost.