Where did the idea come from?
The idea for the shape of my patented container (Patent # D482,240S issued Nov. 2003) came from what I observed were several needs. At the time, I was very interested in how people in cars, like kids in the back, could eat food from the Asian segment - ramen and rice bowls-that require a wider bowl. But the container's shape is perfect for other noodles, like spaghetti, and also soup, salad and ice cream. I also wanted a container that was cheap, nestable, easy to hold with one hand, fit in a car's cup holder, would not tip over like a tall cup - meaning it's safer for kids if they're eating hot food -and would provide a better means to package food that can be messy, for which parents everywhere would be grateful.
Summarize what's happened over the past 10 years since the patent was issued and, most importantly, what's been happening recently?
Ten years ago I was entangled with closing a large fine dining restaurant in downtown Sacramento, followed by teaching and finally landing the job I have to this day.
For the past eight years, I have been the personal chef of Mr. Barron Hilton of Hilton hotels (yes, the grandfather of Paris) at his private luxury Duck Club south of Sacramento on Mr. Hilton's private island, Venice Island, in the Sacramento River Delta. I have cooked for not only for Mr. Hilton and 9 club members at Venice Island, Inc., but their invited guests, including Chuck Yeager, Alex Spanos (owner of the San Diego Chargers), and many actors, politicians and lobbyists. I have learned much from Mr. Hilton and his associates. In particular are duck club members Mr. Tom Simms, founder of Mimi's Restaurant chain and owner of Lazy Dog restaurants in Los Angeles, and Mr. Jim Dal Pozzo, president of Jacmar Foodservice, BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse, and Shakey's Pizza chain.
Today, the market is better for my patent. The fast food, food truck, quick service and the grab-and-go food segment are still growing. Today, anything mobile and quick is hot. Food trucks need simple containers to dish out meals that benefits by a wider circumference. Sales of ramen can be improved with my patent that holds the food in a wide bowl yet fits in a cup holder. With the correct material, my patented container is environmentally friendly. My container will make selling soups, rice bowls, noodle bowls, ethnic bowls, and healthy vegetable bowls easy to carry while also being safe from spilling.
Currently, my plan is to work with Jacmar Foodservice Distribution in Los Angeles. Jacmar is a full line distributor of foods and packaging to California and Nevada region.
What kind of interest have you seen to-date?
Trong Nuygen of the La Bou Bakery and Café chain and his umbrella company, World of Good Tastes in Northern California, is himself an inventor and committed to buying the container for his multiple-site restaurants. La Bou sells soups and salads that would fit nicely in my patented container. The California State Fair food contractor has interest in the container for everything from hand-held ice cream to Hurry-Curry and south-of-the-border bowls and breakfast bowls. Raley's Supermarket chain has interest in the containers for its hot food departments and deli departments, which sell to-go salads, soups, fried rice and chow mein. I have not found anyone I've met in person who does not like the new patented containers. At 16-ounces, the portion size is ideal.
Here are more examples. Starbuck's could sell granola in the patented container, with customers simply pouring hot or cold milk over the cereal and run! Chipotle can use its existing meats, rice, cheeses, and salsas to assemble exciting Mexican bowls instead of wrapping the ingredients in a tortilla, no cooking or expertise! McDonald's could finally sell Chinese sweet-and-sour chicken by ladling sweet-and-sour sauce over rice and their existing nuggets, for hefty margins. Pizza Hut could use my patented container for selling messier spaghetti and meat balls topped with cheese. Ben and Jerry's could sell ice cream with toppings in the patented container ready in frozen cases in supermarkets or C-stores to grab and go. Panda Express could scoop rice into the bowls and sell entrée-ready bowls for car cup holders at their drive-through service windows.
What's the biggest hurdle? What have you learned about packaging?
It's hard to break into the packaging business if you're not in it, even if one is a chef. Upon receiving my two Design Patents, I quickly learned that there are manufacturing and business issues required to get a container into the market. Making the new plastic or paper containers seemed particularly difficult in California. I had little success with large packaging companies; one told me that they did not understand my patent and another was amazed at my invention, but told me they were overstocked with inventory.
In truth, I was naïve, like many inventors, about how to bring my patent to market. The packaging industry's many legal, manufacturing, storage, sales and distribution complexities make even a simple conversation difficult for an outsider. Everything starts off with a non-disclosure agreement. However, I do understand the need for these "hurdles," as mistakes can be costly.
I've learned the importance of using recyclable materials and that the containers must be stackable. There is the issue of where I would get the money to manufacture the containers, as my family does not have fluid funds. Still, I went to trade shows such as the annual WestPack in Los Angeles to understand the packaging industry. Of course, I read my issues of Packaging Digest.
What's the next step?
To start, I hope that my association with Jacmar Foodservice will get the patented container manufactured and then sold and distributed by Jacmar.
For large chain food companies with existing infrastructures, I hope to license out the patents. The new container is easy to understand, easy to use, and of very much beneficial for the needs of today's food industry.
For more information, contact David SooHoo at [email protected] or 916-501-1201.