Panasonic Employee Creates a Sustainable Protein Option via the Game Changer Catapult Program

Jan 25, 2023

Leaders in Action / Feature Story

Products & Solutions

Panasonic Employee Creates a Sustainable Protein Option via the Game Changer Catapult Program

  • People
  • Technologies
  • Environment and Sustainability

A unique program that taps into the ideas and knowhow of Panasonic Corporation’s employees is leading to a growing number of business startups that bring new value to the challenges facing society.

Ron Whiteford had been involved in a variety of new product launches and business startup projects at Panasonic over the past fifteen years, but when a colleague challenged him to come up with something entirely his own and submit it for potential funding under the company’s Game Changer Catapult program, he had to think long and hard about the best way to propose his new business idea.  

Game Changer Catapult (GCC), which launched in 2016, takes the business and life philosophies of 20th century industrialist and Panasonic founder Konosuke Matsushita and applies them to new and sustainable business concepts across essential realms of humanity—including well-being, childcare and education, living space and housework, food solutions and more. Ron is currently working within the GCC framework seeking recognition as an official startup project, expected in early 2023.

To date, over 300 project ideas have been submitted for GCC consideration and those that have been selected are starting to reach the market in Japan one at a time. They are the brainchildren of Panasonic employees who know the company’s depth and range of technologies—as well as its breakthroughs and leadership in environmental-related knowhow—and seek to apply them to fresh and even unusual products and services that provide new value to society.

Photo: GCC work session in progress, where an idea spark is mapped into reality across development, launch and operational phases, as well as practical exit strategies.

GCC work session in progress, where an idea spark is mapped into reality across development, launch and operational phases, as well as practical exit strategies.

Passion and Protein

Motivated by a passion to succeed and possibly even leave a life’s legacy through just the right game changing idea, Ron Whiteford—an assistant Chief from the Solution Development Division, Lighting Development Center of Panasonic Corporation’s Electric Works Company—rolled up his sleeves and went to work. “My job at Panasonic is business development,” he says, “and I have learned that in order to make a comprehensive and potentially successful business proposal, we have to identify the right megatrend, understand what demands there are in the market, and pull together the technologies we have that can provide a solution for those demands.”

Ron struck upon a niche sector, which has a direct impact on the environment in the form of the amount of resources required to produce it, and which simply must do better. “Here we were able to match our lighting and manufacturing technologies and use them to cultivate insects to produce the protein ingredients in animal feed and pet food, as well as other products such as chitin and chitosan, which have a number of commercial and biomedical uses,” he says.

By utilizing organic waste byproducts as food for insects, we are aiming to achieve a circular-economy business model that contributes to the reduction of organic waste and the creation of a more environmentally friendly society despite the supply chain stresses caused by an ever-increasing world population. This project is also important because it contributes to the SDGs setup by the United Nations,” Ron says.

Now, four years later, Ron has done the research, set up a lab and conducted the fieldwork, and is on the verge of entering the market with a proven protein additive for pet foods and animal feed that is sustainability personified.

Sustainable Agriculture and Nutrition

Ron’s brainchild is the cultivation of black soldier fly larvae (BSFL) and processing it into “insect meal” to provide a more sustainable source of high quality animal based protein. 

“I started raising black solider flies, which is a safe and superior insect species to cultivate, about four years ago and developed the knowledge regarding how to raise them in an artificial environment. So far, I have literally raised millions of bugs over roughly 50 generations,” the newly minted insect farmer says.

BSFL, which has been approved for use in adult dog and cat foods and treats by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) in the United States, is a sustainable ingredient that adds nutritional value to an animal’s diet through its antimicrobial and prebiotic qualities. It is a complete animal protein with all nine essential amino acids. 

According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the nutritional value of insects is not less than the nutritional value of other protein sources such as chicken, beef, pork and fish, and even surpasses these traditional proteins in some instances. 

Yet consumable meats from cattle, poultry and other livestock require substantially more food, water and land resources than similar amounts of protein produced from insect farming, which have rapid time-to-maturity and high reproduction rates. 

Ron Whiteford’s game changing BSFL business will be catapulted into the realm of sustainable agriculture by means of reduced raising and growing time, less use of water and space, and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Sustainable agricultural, manufacturing and business processes have emerged as important factors motivating customer choice, and both animal feed and pet food brands have responded by making sustainable ingredients part of their value statement to consumers. One noted on its website that the amount of protein that can be produced per year on one acre of land is 1,000,000 lbs. (453,592 kg) with the cultivation of BSFL, as compared to 192 lbs. (87 kg) with cattle and 265 pounds (120 kg) with poultry.

Origin of a Better Species

At first glance sustainable agriculture and insect farming may seem far removed from Panasonic’s long-established position in consumer electronics and home appliances. However, behind the scenes the brand has emerged as a major supplier to numerous industries of sustainable technologies and processes, and has taken an open-minded approach to how its core strengths can be leveraged to meet the great challenges of the present age. 

The company is at the forefront of solar energy and other renewables, and a leader in the field of lithium battery manufacture for electric vehicles. It has designed and built a growing number of “Sustainable Smart Towns” in Japan on former factory sites that are setting new standards in sustainable living across all stages of a person’s life. Under Panasonic GREEN IMPACT, the company has mapped out an aggressive environmental action plan to reduce CO2 emissions by more than 300 million tons or about 1% of the current total global emissions by the year 2050.

The Game Changer Catapult program falls right in line with Panasonic’s company-wide commitment to the creation of a better world and the enabling of sustainable ways of being. It seeks to shed conventional thinking and demonstrate “new value” through the provision of useful things that previously did not exist.  

Ron Whiteford’s insect meal startup is true to GCC goals, as well as Panasonic founder Konosuke Matsushita’s business philosophy, which include that the ultimate purpose of business is for the betterment of society, and that business is not just a means of maintaining a livelihood or obligation, but something one wants to strive for.

This project is really important to me, and I feel like I’m doing something that really matters,” Ron says. “I want our species to continue on, and continue on in a way that is both sustainable and brings real benefits to people. I don’t believe we should have to sacrifice comfort for sustainability. I think we can achieve both.”

Note: The contents of this article is currently a concept for market research purposes only, and products and services are under development.

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