Patent application title: VACUUM PACKED PET FOOD
Neil Willcocks (Brentwood, TN, US)
Peter Slusarczyk (Nolensville, TN, US)
Alessandra Collier (Franklin, TN, US)
IPC8 Class: AB65D8500FI
Class name: Food or edible material: processes, compositions, and products packaged or wrapped product
Publication date: 2009-02-19
Patent application number: 20090047394
Patent application title: VACUUM PACKED PET FOOD
WOODCOCK WASHBURN LLP
Origin: PHILADELPHIA, PA US
IPC8 Class: AB65D8500FI
A pet food packages of pet food package is chosen for visual appeal. The
package includes a tray and a film that retains loose components of the
pet food in a specified and consistent arrangement by vacuum conditions.
1. A method for presenting a shelf stable pet food comprising the steps
of:a) providing a receptacle member having a recess formed therein;b)
placing a first component of the pet food into the recess in a specified
and consistent first arrangement;c) applying a retaining film over the
recess, the first arrangement is chosen for visual appeal of the pet food
and at least a portion of the retaining film is transparent to enable
viewing of the pet food;d) applying a relative vacuum to the recess to
form the retaining film over the pet food for constraining movement of
the pet food relative to the receptacle member such that the first
arrangement is retained; ande) making the pet food shelf-stable.
2. The method of claim 1 wherein a second component of the pet food is placed into the recess in a specified and consistent second arrangement chosen for visual appeal of the pet food.
3. The method of claim 1 wherein the first component comprises at least one of a meat, a poultry, a fish, meat analogs, fish analogs, poultry analogs, vegetables, and grains.
4. The method of claim 2 wherein the second component comprises at least one of a meat, a poultry, a fish, meat analogs, fish analogs, poultry analogs, vegetables, and grains, and the second component is arranged relative to the first component for visual appeal.
5. The method of claim 4 wherein the pet food has a protein content of at least one percent.
6. The method of claim 2 wherein the pet food has no added water, broth, or gravy.
7. The method of claim 2 wherein at least one of the first component and the second component have a moisture content of at least 60%.
8. The method of claim 2 wherein the pet food as a whole has at least 60 percent moisture.
9. The method of claim 2 wherein the pet food is nutritionally complete.
10. The method of claim 2 wherein the pet food is not nutritionally complete.
11. The method of claim 1 wherein the making step (e) comprises heating the food components.
12. The method of claim 11 wherein the heating step comprises heating to retort temperatures with or without added pressure and aseptic conditions.
13. The method of claim 2 wherein the making step (e) includes one or more of placing the first component and the second component of the pet food under aseptic conditions; irradiating the pet food; acidifying the pet food or providing the pet food with a low pH; or adding preservatives to the pet food.
14. The method of claim 1 wherein the receptacle member is a tray.
15. The method of claim 14 wherein the tray is flexible before the applying step (d).
16. The method of claim 2 wherein placing the first component of pet food occurs simultaneously with placing the second component of pet food.
17. The method of claim 1 wherein the receptacle member and the retaining film are covered by a cover film.
18. The method of claim 1 wherein the receptacle member and the retaining film are covered by a lid.
19. A plurality of pet food packages, each package comprising:a container having a recess formed therein and a retaining film; anda shelf stable pet food including multiple pieces that are located in the recess in a specified and consistent arrangement that enhances the visual presentation of the pet food;the retaining film having at least a portion that is transparent, the retaining film (i) being vacuum sealed over the pet food, (ii) generally taking the shape of the arrangement, and (iii) retaining overall the shape of the arrangement.
20. The plurality of pet food packages of claim 19 further comprising a cover film that is adhered about a peripheral rim of the recess and over the cover film.
21. The plurality of pet food packages of claim 20 wherein a space at approximately atmospheric pressure is defined between the retaining film and the cover film.
FIELD OF THE INVENTION
The present invention relates to packaging foods, to a pet food and package combination and related methods.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
Pet food in a container may be made shelf-stable by several known means, including thermal treatment after sealing (such as retorting); aseptic filling; addition of preservatives; acidification or relying on the inherent high acidity of the product; irradiation; and the like.
Shelf-stable pet food is often supplied in a container that is sealed by a planar film affixed over its mouth. In U.S. Pat. No. 4,574,174, a seal is disclosed for a microwave oven convenience meal to prevent food from escaping while cooking and to maintain the freshness of the food U.S. Pat. No. 3,394,861 discloses a container to store pet food, with a peelable sealing material that can be placed over the contents to preserve them once the user has placed contents inside the container. U.S. Pat. No. 3,344,974 discloses a container with a hermetic seal around the open mouth of the container to maintain freshness, but does not disclose a way to view food prior to breaking the seal. U.S. Pat. No. 3,391,847 discloses a disposable bowl with a cover and a sealant above the cover.
Pet foods are generally classified into three types by their water content: dry pet foods, semi-moist pet foods, and high water content (or wet) pet foods. Dry pet foods generally have a water content of less than about 15% by weight. Although dry foods are easy to store and handle, often they are not as palatable to pets as other classes of pet food. Lower palatability may be driven in part by lower moisture content. As a result, semi-moist and moist pet foods are generally preferred by pets.
Semi-moist pet foods generally have a water content of 15%-55% by weight while pet foods with a water content of greater than 55%, and more specifically in the range of about 65-95%, are classified as high water content pet foods. Due to their higher moisture content, these foods tend to be more susceptible to microorganism growth than dry pet foods, and therefore typically employ a barrier, such as a can or film, to prevent post-processing contamination. High water content pet foods are usually subjected to thermal processing as an anti-microbial step. Preservatives may also be added to high and intermediate water content pet foods as way to prevent microbial growth.
High water content pet foods are often packaged in cans. However, canned pet foods have the drawbacks of high cost for processing and usually require refrigeration after can opening. Wet or canned pet food is usually messy compared to other classes and it usually cannot be viewed before opening, which interferes with the presentation of the pet food and inability to drive freshness cues. Further, pet food customers typically are averse to handling visibly wet pet food and find it visually unappealing.
There is a need for a pet food package that combines a visually appealing display with shelf stability.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
A pet food package allows a consumer to view a visually appealing, fresh-like pet food through a transparent portion of the container. The pet food is placed in the package in a specified and consistent arrangement so that the appearance is substantially consistent in every package. The appearance at the point of purchase is maintained from manufacture through to the animal presentation. The shelf-stable, vacuum packaged, air-tight package enables the pet food to maintain individual piece shape, bright color and, upon opening, a natural aroma, which consumers identify with fresh, premium food.
A method for presenting a shelf stable pet food comprises the steps of providing a receptacle member having a recess formed therein; placing a first component of the pet food into the recess in a specified and consistent first arrangement; applying a film over the recess, the first arrangement is chosen for visual appeal of the pet food and at least a portion of the film is transparent to enable viewing of the pet food; applying a relative vacuum to the recess to form the film over the pet food for constraining movement of the pet food relative to the receptacle member such that the first arrangement is retained; and making the pet food shelf-stable. A second component of the pet food is placed into the recess (prior to applying the film) in a specified and consistent second arrangement chosen for visual appeal of the pet food.
Shelf stability may be achieved or enhanced by several known methods. The receptacle member encompasses a tray of any rigidity, including a film that is flexible before the vacuum in applied. Preferably, the tray is transparent in whole or in part. The tray may also include a cover film over the retaining film that is applied to the food and/or a rigid cover or lid.
A plurality of pet food packages is provided such that each package includes a container having a recess formed therein and a retaining film; and a shelf stable pet food including multiple pieces that are located in the recess in a specified and consistent arrangement that enhances the visual presentation of the pet food. The retaining film has at least a portion that is transparent, the retaining film (i) being vacuum sealed over the pet food, (ii) generally taking the shape of the arrangement, and (iii) retaining overall the shape of the arrangement.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
FIG. 1A is a perspective view of an embodiment of a pet food package;
FIG. 1B is an top plan view of the embodiment illustrated in FIG. 1A;
FIG. 1c is a longitudinal cross sectional view taken through lines C-C of FIG. 1B;
FIG. 1D is an end side view of the embodiment illustrated in FIG. 1A;
FIG. 2A is a perspective view of another embodiment of a pet food package;
FIG. 2B is a top plan view of the embodiment illustrated in FIG. 2A;
FIG. 2c is a longitudinal cross sectional view taken through lines C-C of FIG. 2B;
FIG. 2D is a transverse cross sectional view taken through lines D-D of FIG. 2B showing an optional lid;
FIG. 3A is a perspective view of another embodiment of a pet food package;
FIG. 3B is a top plan view of the embodiment illustrated in FIG. 3A;
FIG. 3c is a longitudinal cross sectional view taken through lines C-C of FIG. 3B; and
FIG. 3D is a transverse cross sectional view taken through lines D-D of FIG. 3B showing an optional lid.
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF ILLUSTRATIVE EMBODIMENTS
A combination shelf-stable pet food and a package for containing the pet food is provided. The pet food includes components and ingredients that may be chosen and arranged to enhance the visual appeal of the package to purchasers. A corresponding method of placing pet food components into the package enables a predetermined arrangement of pet food to be placed into a plurality of packages.
The pet food preferably includes at least one of the following: meat, poultry, fish, meat analogs, fish analogs, poultry analogs, vegetables, and grains in any combination, and will typically have a protein content of at least one percent (by weight). Preferably, the pet food is binder-less and without meat by-products. It may have a water activity of 0.8 or greater and in some cases a moisture content of at least 50%, which would classify it as a high-water content pet food. To prevent microbial growth due to high moisture content in such cases, preservatives may be added to the pet food and/or the pet food may be acidified or provided with a low pH. In some embodiments, little to no preservatives are added. Alternatively the product is made commercially sterile through processes such as thermal or aseptic to prevent microbial growth.
Referring to the FIGS. 1A, 1B, 1C, and 1D to illustrate a first embodiment pet food package 8, a pet food 9 is located in a container 10 that includes a receptacle member, such as a tray 12, a retaining film 30, and a cover film 40. Pet food 9 is illustrated as a combination of chicken 50, rice 52, peas 54, and a garnish 56. Preferably, pet food in the packages described herein is nutritionally complete, as will be understood by persons familiar with pet food formulation--and, for example, in general accordance with the standards of AAFCO or other industry body in the U.S. or applicable country.
Tray 12 includes a base 14 from which continuous sidewalls 16a, 16b, 16c, and 16d extend to form a cavity or recess 20. Base 14 preferably is planar, as shown in FIGS. 1C and 1D, but may also be convex, as explained below, or other shaped. Preferably, side walls 16a, 16b, 16c, and 16d extend upwardly to terminate at a peripheral flange 18, which provides a planar contact surface 22 onto which retaining film 30 and cover film 40 are attached or adhered. Tray 12 may be clear or, as illustrated in FIG. 1A, opaque. Preferably, tray 12 is rigid and formed by conventional methods, such as thermoforming or injection molding.
As best shown in FIG. 1c, retaining film 30 contacts pet food 9 and is attached to contact surface 22. Retaining film 30 is applied to pet food 9 by a vacuum beneath retaining film 30 such that film 30 retains the shape of food 9. Accordingly, food 9 may be placed into tray 12 in a configuration or pattern that is chosen for visual appeal. Retaining film 30 when applied to the configuration or pattern constrains movement of pet food 9 to retain its overall shape and relative location of its constituents. In this regard, retaining film 30 enables a visually appealing presentation of pet food 9 and enables consistent presentation of pet food 9 among a commercial production run of packages 8.
Cover film 40 may be formed of a plastic film, as will be understood by persons familiar with films applied to food containers. Films 30 and 40 preferably is transparent and may be attached to the contact surface 22 by any suitable method, such as gluing, thermal processes, crimping, and the like. Films 30 and 40 also may be clear to enhance the visual appeal of package 8. In the embodiment of package 8, the portion of recess 20 between films 30 and 40 is at or near atmospheric pressure and the present invention encompasses all gas compositions between the films.
Cover film 40 includes a tab 44 extending outwardly from a corner to enable or enhance the ability of a consumer to peel cover film 40 from tray 12 to access retaining film 30, which may then be opened, such as by peeling or cutting, to access pet food 9.
FIGS. 2A, 2B, 2C, and 2D illustrate a second embodiment pet food package 108 that includes a pet food 109 located in a container 110. Container 110 includes a receptacle member, such as a tray 112, a retaining film 130, and a cover 142. Pet food 109 is illustrated as a combination of chicken 50, rice 52, peas 54, and a garnish, such a whole sprig or leaf 56.
Tray 112 includes a base 114 from which continuous sidewall 116 smoothly extends to form a cavity or recess 120. Base 112, as best shown in FIG. 2c, is convex. Preferably, side wall 116 extends obliquely upwardly to terminate at a peripheral flange 118, which provides a planar contact surface 122 onto which cover 142 may be clipped. Tray 112 is transparent to visually expose pet food 109. Preferably, tray 112 is rigid and formed by conventional methods, such as thermoforming or injection molding.
FIG. 2A illustrates package 108 in its intended position for presentation to a consumer in which base 114 is on top and cover 142 contacts the surface on which package 108 rests--that is, package 108 is intended to be oriented upside-down from the intended orientation for first embodiment package 8. Leaf 36 is placed into recess 120 before other food components such that it is located against the inner face of base 114 and visible by a consumer from above, as best shown in FIG. 2A.
Retaining film 130 is applied to pet food 109 by a vacuum between retaining film 130 and tray 112 such that film 130 retains the shape of food 109 and, in the presentation position shown in FIG. 2A, acts as a floor for food 109. The magnitude of the vacuum may be chosen. Retaining film 130 when applied to the configuration or pattern constrains movement of pet food 109 to retain its overall shape and relative location of its constituents. In this regard, retaining film 130 enables a visually appealing presentation of pet food 109 and enables consistent presentation of pet food 109 among a commercial production run of packages 108. Accordingly, the magnitude of vacuum may be chosen according the particular parameters of pet food 109, retaining film 130, and the desired structural parameters of the overall packaging. Evacuating the air also has benefits for diminishing oxidative rancidity.
Retaining film 130 includes a tab 144 that extends from one portion of flange 118 to enable grasping and peeling of film 130 from contact surface 122.
Cover 142, which is shown schematically in FIG. 2D is located over tray 112 and affixed to flange 118 by conventional means. Cover 142 may be transparent to visually expose pet food 109. Cover 142 may also be opaque and formed of any material.
To access pet food 109, a user may remove cover 142 and, holding package 108 such that tray 112 is down, grasp tab 144. Then, the user may peel retaining film 130 from contact surface 122.
FIGS. 3A, 3B, 3C, and 3D illustrate a third embodiment pet food package 208 that includes a pet food 209 located in a container 210. Container 210 includes a tray 212, a retaining film 230, and a cover 242. Pet food 209 is illustrated as a combination of chicken 50, rice 52, peas 54, and a garnish, such a whole sprig or leaf 56.
Tray 212 includes a base 214 that is generally convex (as viewed from outside the package) to form a recess 220. Base 214 includes a flat bottom on which package 208 may rest. Base 214 merges into a peripheral and continuous flange 218, which provides a planar contact surface 222. Tray 212 may be transparent to visually expose pet food 209 or may be opaque. Preferably, tray 212 is rigid or semi-rigid and formed by conventional methods, such as thermoforming or injection molding. The present invention also encompasses a receptacle member formed of a flexible material, such as a film, having enhanced rigidity because of the vacuum process applied between the tray and retaining film 230.
Retaining film 230 is applied onto pet food 209 by a vacuum between retaining film 230 and tray 212 such that film 230 retains the shape of food 209. Retaining film 230 constrains movement of pet food 209 to retain its predetermined shape, which enables a visually appealing presentation of pet food 209 and enables consistent presentation of pet food 209 among a commercial production run of packages 208
Flange 218 of tray 212 includes an extension 224 that extends from an end of package 208. Retaining film 230 includes a tab 244 that extends over a portion of extension 224 to enable grasping and peeling of film 230 from contact surface 222.
Cover 242, which is shown schematically in FIG. 3D is located over tray 212 and affixed to flange 218 by conventional means. Preferably, cover 242 extends entirely over flange 218, including extension 224. Cover 242 may be transparent to visually expose pet food 209, or may be opaque, and formed of any material. Cover 242 may have a recess (not shown) formed in it to enhance stackability and protect film 230.
To access pet food 209, a consumer may peel retaining film 230 from contact surface 122 after removing cover 224.
The properties of retaining films 30, 130, and 230 may be chosen and designed according to the particular requirements of its corresponding package. For example, the retaining film preferably would have sufficient flexibility to conform to the overall shape of its corresponding pet food upon application of a vacuum under conventional vacuum conditions in the food industry. The retaining film also preferably would have sufficient strength to retain the shape of the pet food during application of the vacuum, retorting, shipping, and like processes; acceptable barrier or scavenging properties for relevant chemical constituents, such as oxygen, consistent with a commercially viable shelf life; transparency with acceptable levels of haze and color; and be approved for food contact for all conditions and environments that it encounters during processing and handling. The degree or importance of these properties will vary according to design choices, and the choices for some properties will affect others. One or more of these properties may be omitted or diminished in favor of other properties according to the end goals of the package and its presentation.
Preferably, trays 12, 112, and 212 are thermoformed from a thermoplastic material. The tray may be flexible or rigid, or transparent, translucent, or opaque according to the particular configuration consistent with the above descriptions. Other properties may be chosen according to established design criteria. The present invention, however, encompasses trays of any light transmission, and those formed of other materials, for example, wax covered/coated paper, aluminum, tin coated steel, polymer coated metal, and others.
Generally, the package overall preferably has good thermal stability (including the ability to be microwavable in some embodiments), oxygen and moisture barrier properties, and transparency. Materials such as polyester/polypropylene/EVOH/polypropylene, polypropylene/nylon/EVOH/polypropylene, or polypropylene/EVOH/polypropylene, or oriented nylon may be employed. Barrier materials other than EVOH are contemplated, including known barriers and scavengers, depending on the product design and barrier requirements. The package may employ the same material and/or structure for the lower and top components or different ones of such material and/or structure.
Preferably, pet food 9, 109, and 209 include at least one of a meat, a poultry, a fish, meat analogs, fish analogs, poultry analogs, vegetables, and grains. Preferably, the pet food has a protein content of at least one percent and includes a meat or meat analog.
In some circumstances, the pet food (either a constituent or as a whole) may have a moisture content of at least 50% for palatability. In this regard, the pet food preferably is a solid piece or pieces without added water, broth, or gravy to promote clean feeding, palatability, and visual appeal. The pet food may be formulated without a binder and without meat by-products. Pet food 9, 109, and 209, in total, preferably is nutritionally complete, but in some circumstances may not be nutritionally complete. The package described herein is especially suitable for pet food having a water activity of at least about 0.8, even though the invention is not intended to be limited thereto unless expressly recited in the claims. Moreover, the descriptions of pet foods 9, 109, and 209 are not intended to limit the present invention. Rather, the present invention encompasses any pet food unless specifically limited by the claims.
Methods of presenting a pet food package will be described, for convenience and simplicity, with reference to the embodiment of pet food package 8. The present method is equally applicable to other structures and is not limited to the structure of package 8. A method for providing a shelf-stable pet food package includes the step of providing tray 12 and placing a first component, such as rice 52 in a specified pattern or arrangement. The present invention encompasses placing one or more pet food components formed of loose constituents, or several components that together, when viewed as a whole, form loose constituents.
Upon the introduction of pet food 9 into recess 20, retaining film 30 is applied over the pet food and sealed to tray 12 such that a vacuum exists between film 30 and tray 12. The vacuum may be formed by any process. The vacuum conditions, which may be applied by any means (which will be understood by persons familiar with conventional packaging technology), draw film 30 against pet food 9 to retain its shape to its predetermined arrangement, which is chosen for visual appeal of the pet food. To enhance the flexibility or compliance of the retaining film, heat may be applied to the retaining film to aid in conforming to the pet food configuration or structure. In the embodiments in which the retaining film is transparent, the pet food is visible, which enhances the visual appeal of the package, conveys premium aesthetics, and conveys freshness to a consumer.
The arrangement of pet food 9 into recess 20 encompasses loose pieces surrounding a primary food piece or pieces, loose pieces that are oriented into a recognizable shape by a purchaser (such as a cat or other animal face), and other arrangements.
Preferably, after the retaining film is applied, the package goes through a retort process in which the package is retorted to about 180 degrees F. to enable the package to be shelf-stable without preservatives and without refrigeration. Other well-known methods of making the package shelf-stable, such as aseptic filling, controlling inherent moisture content, moisture reduction and moisture control (binding of water using humectants, sugars, and salts), irradiation, acidification, adding of yeast and mold inhibitors, adding preservatives, and any combination(s) thereof, however, are contemplated. As used herein, "shelf-stable" refers to food stored in a sealed, airtight container without refrigeration required.
The pet food of the preferred embodiments is preferably shelf-stable without the addition of preservatives and without refrigeration, thereby making it a more attractive option for pet owners because it is healthier for pets and easier for the pet owner to store. In an effort to make this pet food even more attractive to pet owners, the food is made in a gravy-less form--with no added liquid, broth, or other gravy--that is less messy and therefore requires little to no clean-up following the meal.
U.S. Pat. Nos. 6,042,857 and 6,063,414 teach the use of a substantially gas impermeable container with a seal that forms an airtight space devoid of oxygen scavengers, nitrogen fill, or vacuum conditions for dry pet food having a low moisture level and a water activity between 0.5 to 0.8. Each patent referred to herein is incorporated by reference in its entirely.
While particular embodiments of the present invention have been illustrated and described, changes and modifications to the structure and function will be apparent to those of ordinary skill in the art without departing from the teaching and scope of the invention.
Patent applications by Neil Willcocks, Brentwood, TN US
Patent applications by Peter Slusarczyk, Nolensville, TN US
Patent applications in class PACKAGED OR WRAPPED PRODUCT
Patent applications in all subclasses PACKAGED OR WRAPPED PRODUCT