Changing the Game While Changing Lives: DeliSofter Soft-food Cooker Brings Quality of Eating to Life

Feb 15, 2023

Solutions for a Better Future / Feature Story

Products & Solutions

Changing the Game While Changing Lives: DeliSofter Soft-food Cooker Brings Quality of Eating to Life

A kitchen counter appliance based on rice cooker technology, DeliSofter makes it quick and easy to prepare meats and vegetables as soft as butter while retaining flavor.

Imagine the temptation of your favorite meal placed before you—knife and fork in hand—yet unable to enjoy it because of a toothache, sore throat, or chewing or swallowing problem from any number of causes. Now imagine the very same food, whether the toughest meat or crispest vegetable, as satisfyingly soft, creamy and succulent, with aroma and taste intact, and still nutritious.

This is an idea that Panasonic employees Megumi Ogawa and Tokie Mizuno not only visualized but brought to reality, thanks to the company’s Game Changer Catapult program, which encourages its employees who have unique ideas and entrepreneurial aspirations to submit them in hopes of starting up a new business.

Meet the DeliSofter, a “soft-food cooker” by the GIFMO Company, now in its fourth year of existence in Japan. The business is a case study in persistence and of laying the groundwork for greater things to come. GIFMO ultimately wants to take the soft-food cooker into markets worldwide, and envisions a day when the DeliSofter will be an essential appliance in any home and an indispensable way of life for millions. 

Essentially based on the workings of a pressure cooker, the DeliSofter, which can also double as a rice cooker, adds the versatility of being able to break down the tough fibers of a wide variety of foods, while keeping them visually appealing and making them a delight to eat.

The genesis of the DeliSofter concept came to Ogawa when she became caregiver to her aging father, who began suffering from a swallowing disorder and lost the ability to eat the normal foods that he once took—and most people do take—for granted each day. The situation took its toll on her father, who would complain about not being able to eat his favorite meals. As primary food preparer, it was also taking its toll on Ogawa herself.

Photo: Tokie Mizuno gathering opinions from DeliSofter taste-testers at an industry trade fair in Japan

Tokie Mizuno gathers opinions from DeliSofter taste-testers at an industry trade fair in Japan

Game Changer Catapult, Life Changing Consequences

Chopping up and cutting down meats and vegetables and blending them into soft dishes or liquids that are nutritious and easy to swallow takes a lot of time and effort. Day in and day out, Ogawa planned and prepared special meals, all the while looking for a better way. 

In the right place at the right time, she saw a ray of hope in Panasonic’s Game Changer Catapult (GCC) program in 2016, which challenged employees to submit ideas for fresh new businesses of unique benefit to society and compete for startup funding.

She got to work mapping out a product and business plan for the DeliSofter concept that would soon consume her life, and completely change her father’s as well as the lives of a growing number of others. She teamed up with colleague Tokie Mizuno, a kindred spirit, who had experienced how the ability to dine together every day with her family was a key factor in her grandmother’s living to the ripe old age of 116.

Mizuno and Ogawa went on to obtain funding from BeeEdge, a startup acceleration joint venture between Panasonic and venture capital firm Scrum Ventures and public-private fund INCJ. They launched care appliance group called “Team Ohana,” built a working prototype that proved the product concept, and launched the GIFMO Company to bring the DeliSofter to life. GIFMO garnered high-profile attention at trade fairs in Japan and abroad, appeared on Japanese television and in the media.

Photo: DeliSofter makes the toughest meat or crispest vegetable soft and creamy, with aroma, flavor and nutrition intact

DeliSofter makes the toughest meat or crispest vegetable soft and creamy, with aroma, flavor and nutrition intact

Barrier-free Eating Philosophy, Quality-of-Eat Lifestyle

Modest sales in Japan in the niche market of caregiving have to date resulted in a small but growing community of DeliSofter owners who find each other on social media and exchange tips and recipes for getting the most value from the soft-food cooker. Discussions have further inspired GIFMO employees to develop a true passion for what eating means to people, and to share that passion with others. The concept has developed into what GIFMO calls barrier-free eating, a dimension of barrier-free living that has been overlooked.

“In Japan we are actively grappling with an aging society so the idea of quality-of-life during one’s waning years is on the top of a lot of minds,” Tokie Mizuno says. The Japanese are well known for placing a high value on their culinary traditions, seasonal foods, and especially eating together, so the inability to participate in and enjoy these things with others is mentally devastating. Mizuno coined the phrase “quality-of-eat” to focus attention on the need to fulfill this fundamental aspect of daily life—the sheer joy of eating, which is, of course, essential to life.

Based on the number of sales, GIFMO assumes that more than 2,000 people have been able to resume enjoying their mealtimes as a result of the birth of Delisofter. DeliSofter “ambassador” Hiromi Iseki testifies to the product’s ability to do that. Her daughter Yuna developed muscular dystrophy at an early age and by the time Yuna reached high school was largely bedridden and unable to chew and swallow most of the foods she loved.

DeliSofter completely changed our lives,” Hiromi says. “We use it every day, every meal, and now mealtime is a highlight of Yuna’s day. It is a must-have for anyone with eating difficulties of any type.”

Hiromi describes foods like beef, deep-fried pork cutlets, fried chicken, sushi and even bread as fair game for the DeliSofter, which look appetizing and taste great. “Hospitals typically prepare foods for people with chewing and swallowing difficulties by blending them according to nutritional value, but the patient can’t tell what they are eating, and can even lose the will to eat,” she says. But looks and taste are not everything. “The aroma of foods they want but cannot have is a big part of their anguish. The DeliSofter keeps the food’s original fragrance intact.”

Hiromi believes the soft-food cooker is suitable for everyone. “Once I added some DeliSofter made foods to my husband and son’s lunch boxes by mistake and they love it,” she explains. “I encourage anyone to give it a try. You can literally slice a piece of fried chicken with a potato chip.”

Photo: Deep-fried chicken softened to a melt-in-your-mouth state

Even deep-fried chicken is softened to a melt-in-your-mouth state while maintaining its visual appeal, aroma, flavor and nutritional value

Three-phased Plan for a New Food Culture

Hiroki Mukaoku, who works to promote the DeliSofter at the GIFMO Company, notes that the Game Changer Catapult program, which embodies the business philosophy of Panasonic founder Konosuke Matsushita, instilled in the new company the need for staying focused on a clear vision while keeping an eye on the day-to-day details.

“We’ve had our ups and downs over the past six years, but our strategy is sound,” says Mukaoku. “We have a three-phase approach to the business and are still only in the first phase, which is to establish the DeliSofter as a care appliance that benefits people with chewing and swallowing difficulties, and caregivers alike.”

What lies beyond includes interacting with healthcare stakeholders related to the DeliSofter’s niche in the wellness sector to further stimulate sales. “The ultimate goal, though, is for the DeliSofter to be accepted by everyone as an essential cooking appliance in the home, as typical as a range or microwave or a rice cooker,” Mukaoku says. 

GIFMO calls this the “new food culture” phase of business policy and Hiroki Mukaoku doesn’t intend to let the DeliSofter be limited to simply something for the elderly or infirm. “Everybody loves soft foods,” he says. “And that’s what the DeliSofter is all about.”

Related Articles

The content in this website is accurate at the time of publication but may be subject to change without notice.
Please note therefore that these documents may not always contain the most up-to-date information.
Please note that German, French and Chinese versions are machine translations, so the quality and accuracy may vary.

Articles within series