US 20040140240 A1
The present invention relates to a dispenser (101) of granular or powdered food products (119), e.g. grated cheese and similar loose food products. The dispenser (101) is a bi-valve holder (120), comprising a first valve (104) and a second valve (105) closed on themselves, with each valve (104, 105) moulded in one piece out of a single sheet of plastic synthetic material, said valves being joined along an edge line (106). At least one valve is equipped with a dispensing hole (114) and a label (116), removable by tearing, to cover the hole (114). Said valves (104, 105) before the sealing step, have heat-sealed side edges (109, 110) and approached top edges (111, 112). Advantageously, an automatic process is provided to manufacture said dispenser comprising the following steps: opening of the dispenser upper end by pressing on said side edges (109, 110) with subsequent expansion due to the fact that said top edges (111, 112) move away from each other, filling with the loose food product (119) through said opening; heat-sealing of said top edges (111, 112).
1. A dispenser (1, 101) for granular or powdered food products (10, 110), such as grated cheese and the like food products in loose form, characterized in that it comprises a tray-type container (102, 104, 105), closed at the top with a cover heat-sealed around the tray rim, at least one side wall (4, 113) of the tray being provided with a discharge port (5, 114), and a tear-off label (6, 116) which have a multi-layered structure incorporating an antagonist barrier layer and is arranged to cover the port (5, 114).
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17. A dispenser (1) for granular or powdered food products (10), such as grated cheese and the like food products in loose form, characterized in that said container is a cup type (16), and that said port is provided in one side wall (14) near the cup bottom (15), a tear-off label (6) being arranged to cover the port (5).
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32. A process for manufacturing a dispenser (101) of granular or powdered food products (119), e.g. grated cheese and similar loose food products, wherein the dispenser (101) is a bi-valve holder (120) comprising a first valve (104) and a second valve (105) closed on themselves, each valve (104, 105) being moulded in one piece out of a single sheet of synthetic material which comprises a barrier layer and being joined along an edge line (106), said valves (104, 105) having heat-sealed side edges (109, 110) and simply approached top edges (111, 112), characterised in that it automatically provides the following steps:
opening of the dispenser upper end by pressing on said side edges (109, 110) with subsequent expansion due to the fact that said top edges (111, 112) move away from each other;
filling with the loose food product (119) through said opening;
heat-sealing of said top edges (111, 112).
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 The invention relates, particularly but not exclusively, to a dispenser for granular or powdered food products, such as grated cheese and the like food products in loose form.
 The invention relates, particularly but not exclusively, to the packaging, the long-term preservation and the dispensing of such dairy products as grated cheese, and this description covers this field of application for convenience of illustration only.
 Already for some years, there has been growing acceptance by the consumer public of certain food products which, despite their perishable nature, can be bought at the food store in an as-fresh condition by virtue of the products having been packaged under an inert medium and/or stored at a low temperature, e.g. at +4° C.
 A typical example may be that of freshly made “pasta”, regarded nowadays as a product with a medium shelf-life to be kept in the cooled counters of food stores.
 Packaging techniques have been developed which represent useful contributions towards preserving the organoleptic characteristics of food products, and which suit different sorts of perishable products and consumption styles. For dairy products, such as e.g. aged cheese, a packaging technique has long been in use, whereby cheese cuts are vacuum packaged under a transparent film envelope, the film being wrapped around the product and heat sealed in the process of drawing the vacuum. Further as relates to aged cheese, consumers appear to welcome pre-grated cheese, which are customarily sold in pliant bag packages.
 Another way of storing grated cheese in a durable manner is to pack it into tray-type containers of a thermoformed plastics material, which containers are closed at the top with a sheet cover heat sealed all around the container rim. Although advantageous on several counts, such containers are of limited serviceability for, once opened for consumption, they cannot be re-sealed to ensure a good preservation of the product, so that the latter has to be consumed within a comparatively short period of time.
 In this context, there also ekists a growing demand from consumers for containers that can also serve as dispensers of a loose product packaged therein.
 For this purpose, the prior art provides rigid containers of a generally cylindrical shape, which mount sophisticated dispensing and re-sealing structures effective to preserve, within limits, the organoleptic characteristics of the product and at the same time ensure that it can be conveniently dispensed.
 These dispensing containers have major limitations in their high cost, due to the complicated construction of their dispenser part, and in their unsuitability to provide disposable packages, a form that is looked upon favorably by both consumers and store operators.
 A cheaper alternative is disclosed in Italian Utility Model Patent No. RE95U000016, which provides a cup-shaped container that is closed at the top with a sheet cover heat-sealed to the cup rim, the container having an aperture at its bottom for dispensing its contents.
 The last-mentioned solution is quite inexpensive, but has failed to attract commercial interest due to an important flaw in its design. The downward tapering shape of the cup combines with the weight of its contents to funnel and crowd the granular particles toward the cup bottom. Thus, the particles becomes tightly packed and cannot be dispensed through the bottom opening any more. This effect is enhanced in the case of products with a high moisture content, such as grated cheese.
 The technical problem underlying this invention is that of providing a dispenser for loose food products, in particular granular or powdered products such as grated cheese, with appropriate structural and functional features to allow a long-term preservation of the food products therein contained, as well as to facilitate dispensing in precise amounts, thereby to overcome the drawbacks outlined with reference to the prior art.
 The principle upon which the solution proposed in the present invention is founded is that of providing a dispenser in the form of a tray-type container having at least one side wall formed with a discharge port that is normally closed by a tear-off label.
 Based on this principle, the technical problem is solved by a dispenser as previously indicated and defined in the characterizing part of claims 1 and following.
 The features and advantages of a dispenser according to the invention will be apparent from the following description of an embodiment thereof, given by way of non-limitative example with reference to the accompanying drawings.
 In the drawings:
FIG. 1 is a schematic perspective view of a dispenser of loose food products according to the invention;
FIG. 2 is a schematic perspective view of a second embodiment of the inventive dispenser;
FIG. 3 is a schematic perspective view of a preferred embodiment of the inventive dispenser;
FIG. 4 is a schematic perspective view of a modified embodiment of the inventive dispenser;
FIG. 5 is a schematic side view of the dispenser shown in FIG. 2; and
FIG. 6 is a schematic side view of the dispenser shown in FIG. 3.
FIG. 7 shows a perspective view of a dispenser of loose food products according to a further embodiment of the invention;
FIG. 8 shows a further perspective view of the dispenser according to the invention;
FIG. 9 shows a schematic perspective view of an embodiment of the invention for implementing the manufacturing process of the dispenser shown in FIG. 7;
FIG. 10 shows a schematic perspective view of a detail of the embodiment shown in FIG. 9;
FIG. 11 shows a schematic perspective view of a further detail of the embodiment shown in FIG. 9;
FIG. 12 shows a partial section schematic perspective view of a further detail the embodiment shown in FIG. 9;
FIGS. 13 and 14 show vertical elevation schematic side and front views, respectively, of the dispenser shown in FIG. 7.
 With reference to the drawing views, a dispenser of granular or powdered food products, such as grated cheese or the like loose food products, according to this invention, is shown at 1 in schematic form and is adapted to conserve food products durably therein.
 The dispenser 1 also serves as a container for the food product, a granular type of food product being generally shown at 10. This dispenser is also suitable for long-term storage of the products therein in the cooled counters of food stores.
 Advantageously in this invention, the dispenser 1 comprises a tray-type container 2, which is closed at the top with a sheet cover 3 of a synthetic material heat-sealed all around the tray rim.
 The container 2 is preferably made of a thermoformed synthetic plastics material for food applications. The product 10 is contained and preserved in the dispenser 1 under an inert atmosphere, preferably nitrogen gas.
 In a preferred embodiment, the container 2 is thermoformed from a multi-layer sheet of a transparent synthetic material. More particularly, the multi-layer sheet comprises: an outward layer of polystyrene, polyolefin, or polyester resins; an intermediate barrier layer, e.g. ethylvinyl alcohol; and an inward layer of weldable polyesters.
 The intermediate layer is substantially air-impervious and exerts an antagonist activity towards oxygen. Thus, the intermediate layer serves an anti-ageing function that contributes to a proper and durable product preservation.
 Sheet 3 also has a multi-layered structure and includes an oxygen-antagonist intermediate layer.
 The tray-type container has a shallow elongate shape, with a length dimension L greater than the width N, and a depth H being ¼ to ½ the length L.
 Preferably, the depth H of the tray-type container is less than one-third its length L.
 Advantageously, at least one side wall 4 of the tray is formed with a discharge port 5 through which the loose granular product can flow out in use of the dispenser by a consumer of the product. In such a way, the granular product is not crammed against the discharge port 5 by gravity, and the flaking off and delivery of the grated cheese is facilitated.
 The port 5 is circular and has a diameter of 14 to 22 mm, preferably of 16 mm.
 A label 6 is applied originally over the port. 5 to keep the dispenser 1 sealed throughout its shelf life, and is adapted to be torn off by the consumer. The label 6 also includes a barrier layer of the same type as that provided in the structure of the container 2.
 The label 6 is of a self-sticking type with an adhesive-free tab 9 providing a grip for tearing off the label. Alternatively, the label 6 could be heat sealed.
 The dispenser 1 is also provided with a stopper 11 for quick application to the port 5 to close it again after use. If desired, the stopper 11 may be perforated and include a snap-on cap.
 In a second embodiment, shown particularly in FIG. 2, the dispenser 1 has a side wall 4′ set at an angle β of inclination to the container bottom 7. This dispenser also has a flat side wall portion 4″ set at a smaller angle α of inclination to the tray bottom 7 than angle β. The discharge port 5 for the product is provided in the flat portion 4″, so as to further facilitate the flaking off and delivery of the granular product in use of the dispenser.
 In the dispenser of this invention, the side walls actually define a funnel-shaped section in the tray, but the discharge port 5 is formed laterally in said funnel-shaped section, i.e. through a side wall rather than the bottom as in the state of the art.
 In this way, the product aggregation and packing at the tray bottom, which made its issuing out of conventional dispensers practically impossible, is avoided.
 In the dispenser of this invention, the port formed in a side wall has proved effective to promote the flaking off and the regular delivery of the product as required.
 Of course, the port 5 in the wall 4″ would also be covered with a self-sticking or heat-sealed label adapted to be torn off.
 In a preferred embodiment, shown in FIG. 3, the tray container of the dispenser 1 is boat-shaped.
 Advantageously, the discharge port 5 for the product is provided in the pointed forward end of the boat shape.
 Here too, the port 5 is covered with a label 6, and a stopper 11 for re-closing the container is provided for quick application to the port 5.
 In this particular embodiment, a side wall 12 of the tray-type container 2, located opposite from the side wall 4 with the port 5, advantageously extends almost square to the container bottom 7. This allows the dispenser 1 to stand upright on said wall 12.
 Alternatively, a pad 13, located at the container bottom 7, may be associated with the wall 12 of the tray-type container 2 opposite from the side wall 4. The pad 13 has preferably an adhesive-coated surface for quick attachment to the side wall 12 of the dispenser 1, and is useful to prop up the dispenser 1, such that the latter can rest upright on the top edge of the wall 12 and the pad 13.
 Another embodiment of the dispenser 1 according to the invention will now be described briefly with reference to FIG. 4.
 In this embodiment, the dispenser 1 is cup-shaped as at 16, and the port 5 is provided in a flat portion 14 of the cup side wall close to the cup bottom 15.
 Here again, the cup-shaped container is made from a thermoformed transparent multi-layer sheet, and closed at the top with a sheet cover 3 of a synthetic material, which is heat-sealed around the cup rim.
 In addition, the port 5 is covered with the tear-off label 6, which label will then leave the place to the stopper 11 for re-closing the dispenser.
 The dispenser of this invention does solve the technical problem, and affords advantageous features, foremost among which is that it doubles as a container for the long-term storage of food products under an inert atmosphere, and as a uniquely serviceable dispenser.
 In fact, the grated product is allowed to run out smoothly and controllably, and even in the event of a product with a high moisture content tending to aggregate into lumps, a gentle shaking of the dispenser is enough to restore the product to its loose granular form for an efficient delivery.
 In all conditions of use, the product will always be discharged through one side, and will not crowd toward the discharge port under its own weight, as is instead the case with conventional dispensers.
 All of the above-described embodiments of the container according to the invention are suitable for a very large volume production and for being filled and sealed by means of currently available automatic filling apparatus.
 Furthermore, the dispenser of this invention allows the food products packaged in it to be preserved and used for a relatively long time after the package is unsealed.
 Now, with reference to the drawings FIGS. 7 to 14, a further embodiment is disclosed. In this embodiment a dispenser of granular or powdered food products, such as grated cheese and similar loose food products, embodying the invention and effective for the long-term preservation of said food products, is generally shown at 101 in schematic form.
 The dispenser 101 also serves as holder 120 of the food product and the granular food products packed therein are generally shown at 119. Said dispenser is also suitable for the long-term storage of the products 119 in the cooled counters of food stores.
 Advantageously in the invention, the dispenser 101 is substantially bi-valve and is moulded out of a single sheet 103 of plastic synthetic material. The dispenser 101 is preferably made out of thermoformed plastic synthetic material for food application. The products 119 are packed and stored in the dispenser 101 in an inert atmosphere, preferably nitrogen.
 In a preferred embodiment, sheet 103 is a multilayer sheet of transparent synthetic material. More particularly, the multilayer sheet comprises an outer layer, i.e. environment-side, of polystyrene, polyolefine or polyester resins; an intermediate barrier layer, e.g. ethylvinyl alcohol, and an inner layer, i.e. product-side, of heat-sealable polymers. The sheet 103 is preferably only 0.4 mm thick and the intermediate layer only few tens of microns.
 The intermediate layer is substantially air-proof and effective to repel the oxygen molecules; therefore, thanks to its anti-ageing function, said intermediate layer favours the convenient and long-term food product preservation.
 In detail, the bi-valve dispenser 101 comprises a first valve 104 and a second valve 105, wherein the two valves 104, 105 are moulded in one piece, the valves being joined along an edge line 106.
 Each valve 104 and 105 has substantially a tray-type elongate flat shape, with the length L greater than the width N and a limited depth H, for example comprised between 20% and 40% of the length L. Moreover, the tray width N is preferably less than half of the length L.
 By way of non-limiting example, a dispenser 101 adapted for storing about 165 cc of loose product has a length L of 112 mm, a width N of 52 mm and a depth H of 19 mm.
 The edge line 106, effective to keep the valves joined, is an hinge line around which the valves are closed on themselves after moulding. The edge line 106 coincides with a short side edge N of the tray shape so that, with the valves closed on themselves, the dispenser has a flat supporting bottom 102, the edge line 106 centrally extending to said bottom 102.
 When the valves 104, 105 are closed on themselves, they are joined by juxtaposed edges. More precisely, said valves have coincident edges: edge line 106, heat-sealed side edges 109, 110, but simply approached top edges 111, 112. The edges 109, 110, 111 and 112 protrude sidewise and peripherally from the holder 120 of about 5 mm, thus providing side ribbings 107 and 108 effective to serve as barrier, thanks to the appropriate side thickness. Said ribbings also play a relevant role in the manufacturing process of the dispenser 101, as will be apparent in the following description.
 In correspondence with each valve, the dispenser 101 advantageously has a top portion 113 sloping to the longitudinal axis. Said portion 113 is flat and substantially weathered with an inclination angle of about 60°.
 Said flat portion 113 comprises a dispensing hole 114. Said hole 114 is circular, with a diameter comprised between 14 and 22 mm, preferably 16 or 20 mm.
 The granulated loose product can flow out through said hole 114 while the consumer is using the dispenser. In fact, due to the sloping portion 113, the product is not crammed against the dosing hole 114: it is thus possible to avoid the product to be crowded and stuck, and, indeed, the grated cheese can be easily dispensed.
 In the dispenser according to the invention, the dispenser top defines a funnel-shaped section, but the dispensing hole 114 is formed sidewise in said funnel-shaped section, i.e. in correspondence with the sloping side wall 113. In this way, it is avoided for the product to crowd and stuck, which made its dispensing practically impossible.
 In the dispenser according to the invention the hole 114 in the side wall 113 has proved to be effective to favour the smooth dispensing of the product according to necessity.
 A label 116, removable, by tearing by the consumer, is applied to cover the hole 114 during the holder filling and the shelf life of the dispenser 101. The label 116 also comprises a barrier layer identical to that provided in'the structure of the thermoformed sheet 103.
 The label 116 is preferably, but not exclusively, self-adhesive with an adhesive-free grip 115 essentially used for label tearing. Alternatively, the label may be heat-sealed, as described hereinafter.
 The dispenser 101 is also provided with a closing plug 117 for quick application to said hole 114. The plug 117 is made out of plastic material for food applications.
 For sale in food stores, the dispenser 101 is provided with a cellophane protective cover wrapping also the plug 117, as shown in FIG. 7.
 The invention relates also to an automatic process for automatic manufacturing the dispenser as defined in claims 32 and following.
 The operative step sequence of an automatic process for filling and sealing the dispenser 101 according to the invention will now be described in greater detail, with particular reference to the example shown in FIG. 9. At this purpose, an apparatus 130, suitably structured for completing the filling and assembling the dispenser 101, is provided.
 Said apparatus 130 comprises a plurality of workstations 145, 155, 160, 170 and 175 and a turntable 131 with a circular rotating plate 132, equipped with a plurality of slots 133 for corresponding holders 120.
 Said slots 133 are located perimetrically on the plate 132 at regular distance; for example, as shown in FIG. 3, eight slots reciprocally angularly spaced by an angle of 45° are provided. Each slot 133 basically comprises a well housing 134 wherein the lower portion 135 of an holder 120 is inserted and held so to keep the holder standing upright or, however, with its main axis x-x perpendicular to the plane of the plate 132.
 The well housing 134 is provided with shape fit to the lower portion 135 of the holder 120. At this purpose, the housing 134 is essentially rectangular with short side walls, wherein opposed grooves 136, 137 are formed for engagement with the corresponding side ribbings 107, 108 of the holder 120.
 Advantageously, each slot 133 is combined with a pliers 138 having opposed jaws 140, 141 operating on the side ribbings 107, 108 of each holder 120. The jaws 140, 141 are continually initiated to open by sprung means 139 and to close by actuator means 142, shown in FIG. 10, which force the pliers 138 to pinch sidewise the holder 120 in opposition to the sprung means 139.
 The operation of each pliers 138, together with the corresponding slot 133, is interlocked with computerised check and control means 150.
 Due to the grip of the jaws 140 and 141, each holder 120 is sidewise compressed in correspondence with the ribbings 107, 108, leading to an expansion of the upper end of the holder 120, and thus to a temporary open mouth configuration thereof caused by elastic deformation.
 The different workstations, described hereinafter, are located around the turntable 131, which turns, e.g. clockwise.
 A first feeding station 145 supplies the turntable 131 with the holders 120. The station 145 is the free end of a belt conveyer 146 drawing the holders 120 from a warehouse, conventional and thus not shown. The conveyer 146 is operated by electric motors and equipped with limit stop sensors which allow to quit its movement when a slot 133 of the turntable 131 fits in a grip position located beneath the conveyer free end.
 A following punching station 155 enables the hole 114 to be drilled in the side wall portion 113 of the holder 120.
 In correspondence with said punching station 155, the holder 120 is sidewise pinched by the pliers 138, as just described, its upper end being open. A clashing element 156, essentially anvil-shaped, is inserted into the holder 120 and positioned close to the inner surface of the side wall portion 113 to oppose to the thrust of a punch 157 operated by pneumatic means. The clashing element 156 is positioned at the end of an arm 158 operated by motor means along a substantially downward trajectory.
 The punch 157 is preferably a hollow cylindrical tubular element with sharp free end effective to drill a hole in the side wall portion 113 of the holder 120. Said punch 157 is operated to reciprocally approach to and move away from the side wall portion 113 of the holder 120. At the same time, this operation, referred to as punching, also allows the removal of the scrap, i.e. the circular discarded element, which is hold inside the tubular punch, packed with the previous scraps and discharged at the opposed end of the tubular element.
 At the end of this operation, the clashing element 156 is extracted from the holder with inverse movement to the previous positioning thereof.
 A following covering or labelling station 160 enables a closing label 166 to be applied to the previously drilled hole.
 Each label 166 is drawn from a tape 161 suitable for holding the labels up to their use. Alternatively, the tape 161 can be made out of a plastic synthetic material incorporating the barrier layer and labels 166 can be formed directly in the tape 161 and substantially divided by a marked circular breaking line. The tape 161 is winded around a first reel 163 and extended in the workstation 160 along a broken line path.
 The labelling station 160 comprises a first tape 161 unwinding reel 163 and a second scrap tape winding reel 164 located above the holder 120.
 A presser 165, located beside the hole 114 to be closed, operates on the tape 161 to tear a label 166 from the tape and apply it to the holder 120 to close the hole 114. The presser 165 performance is equal to the action of a hand finger tip keeping on pressing to achieve an optimum bond of the label 166 and avoid any possible channels which would make the barrier layer ineffective.
 A following filling station 170 comprises a funnel-shaped hopper 171 effective to load the granulated food product into the holder 120. More particularly, a pair of channels 172, 173 for main and fine feeding respectively, are provided to dispense into the hopper 171 a predetermined and weighted quantity of product according to methods known in this field.
 At the end of the filling with the granulated food product, the dispenser 1 is drawn by a grip arm 175 of a shunting station 177 which alternately loads the dispenser 101 in a corresponding slot 183 of a pair of outer turntables 178, 179 associated to the turntable 131 and belonging to the welding stations 181, 182 respectively.
 The shunting station 177 is located between the turntables 178 and 179, close to the turntable 131, and comprises a star-shaped rotating plate 176 equipped, at the star ends, with grip pliers 184 grasping each dispenser 101 for transferring it alternately in a slot 183 of the turntables 178 or 179. The rotating plate 176 also serves to discharge the dispensers 101 at the end of the welding step.
 The welding stations 181, 182 are split with respect to the other workstations since the time required for sealing the upper end of the dispenser 101 is almost twice the time required for completing the other operative steps in the stations 145, 155, 160 and 170. In fact, stations 181 and 182 are provided for completing the welding of the dispenser upper end simultaneously to the just described operative steps.
 Advantageously, each welding station 181, 182 comprises a pair of press cylinders 185, 186 operated to reciprocally move away and approach in correspondence with the dispenser 101 top.
 Each cylinder 185, 186 has a heated arch-shaped operative head, its profile corresponding to the top approached edges 111, 112 of the dispenser 101.
 Moreover, heating elements 187 are provided to heat the cylinder operative heads so that the heating, together with a repeated compression, enable the edges 111, 112 to be constrained to each other, thus obtaining a heat-sealing effect.
 Advantageously, immediately before the welding step but with the holder 120 already positioned for the welding, the remaining air is sucked from the holder and replaced by an inert atmosphere, preferably nitrogen. The process for performing this operation is substantially known in this specific field and the relevant detailed description is thus omitted.
 At the end of the welding step, a further cold pressure is provided immediately after, in order to confer a suitable stiffness to the heat-sealed edges 111 and 112.
 The previous description clearly shows how the dispenser of the invention and the corresponding manufacturing process solve the technical problem and afford several advantages, foremost among which is that the dispenser, formed as just described, has a double function, serving both as holder for inert atmosphere long-term preservation of food products and uniquely practical and functional dispenser.
 In fact, the dispenser-holder is so manufactured as to prevent the barrier layer, effective to repel oxygen penetration, from being stressed and weakened. Moreover, the particular dispenser shape favours the gradual dispensing of the grated product and, even with crumbs typical of products with high moisture content, a slight dispenser shaking is sufficient for the product to become again so loose and granulated as to be conveniently dispensed.
 In all conditions of use, the product is always dispensed sidewise and the product weight will not crowd towards the dispensing hole, as is instead the case with conventional dispensers.
 The dispenser according to the invention suits very large volume production and can be filled and sealed in a completely automated way by means of the previously described apparatus for implementing the filling and sealing process according to the invention.
 The dispenser according to the invention allows thus the food product packed therein to be used for a relatively long time, at the same time ensuring its good preservation.
 Moreover, known dispensers are moulded and thermoformed out of a sheet of plastic synthetic material for food applications. Generally, said sheet is a multilayer sheet comprising an intermediate barrier layer, e.g. ethylvinyl alcohol, which is substantially air-proof, effective to repel oxygen molecules and, thanks to its anti-ageing function, favouring the convenient and long-term food product preservation. Unfortunately the plies undergone by the synthetic material sheet during the dispenser thermoforming make the barrier layer so thin and weak that the oxygen molecule repellent action thereof is endangered.
 On the contrary, the present invention allows obtaining a low cost dispenser equipped with an effective barrier layer since the thermoforming phase is not pushed to an extreme being the dept of each valve of the bi-valve dispenser substantially half of conventional tray tape containers.