May 17, 2023
Solutions for a Better Future / Feature Story
Products & Solutions
foodable Home Appliance x Food Subscription Service Taps Power of Co-Creation to Deliver New Experiences
To meet diverse needs and deliver exciting new food experiences, Panasonic Corporation (hereafter Panasonic) has introduced “foodable”—a subscription service that pairs kitchen appliance rentals with carefully selected foods. The service is founded on the desire to support better eating habits and promote well-being through food. Panasonic Newsroom Global spoke to the development team to find out more about the unique combination of subscription consumer electronics and foodstuffs and co-creation efforts with more than 40 food industry partners.
Developing a “home appliance x food” subscription service
foodable is a subscription service that combines Panasonic kitchen appliances with a monthly selection of specially selected food items. At a time when food manufacturers, distributors, and appliance makers such as Panasonic are working to add value to food from their own perspectives, foodable has created a unique service that is described as an industry first.
The concept of foodable has been well received, and the number of fans has steadily increased since the service launched in June 2021. Last fall, a new Food Only Plan was added to the program, and as of March 2023, foodable offers 19 different course options to choose from.
Committed to delivering a “new experience of food”
Leading the foodable development team are a duo who built their careers in areas completely different from kitchen appliances.
“I was involved in the TV business for many years. I moved to the kitchen appliance division around 2015,” says Hiroyoshi Ohmiya, Kitchen Space Division, Living Appliances and Solutions Company.
Ohmiya transferred to the appliance division at a time when TVs were beginning to be connected to the Internet—a new trend that had yet to reach kitchen appliances—so he began searching for a way to bring the Internet of Things (IoT) to the kitchen.
The challenge was providing something that customers wanted. “At Panasonic, we seek to improve the lives of our customers. However, if we use rice cookers as an example, what customers want isn’t a good rice cooker—what they want is delicious rice! A rice cooker alone isn’t the answer. You’ve got to have the rice, too.”
For instance, Japan is home to a wide variety of rice brands grown in a variety of places across the country, and the best way to cook each brand is different. Over the years, Panasonic has worked closely with rice growers to analyze the properties, taste, and texture of each individual variety, updating rice cooker specifications to bring out the best flavor of each brand.
“Even though our rice cooker could cook 63 varied brands of rice, there was no way to guarantee that consumers were actually using the feature. Consumers usually buy ordinary rice in 5kg or 10kg bags at the supermarket,” says Ohmiya. “If the challenge was to create opportunities for them to learn about new brands or to casually enjoy their favorite brands of rice, then the answer was to create a new service that delivered small packages of brand-name rice every month.”
Ohmiya launched the development of foodable in 2019, and in April 2020, he was joined by Tomoko Seki, whose background was in mobile internet services. “In my previous department, our goal was to provide value not only through hardware but also through software,” says Seki. “I gained experience working with external co-creation partners, and joined the consumer marketing department to launch the IoT coffee roaster service, which included both kitchen appliance sales and the development of dedicated apps and green coffee bean subscriptions.”
Co-creating new value by breaking through the “Why Panasonic?” barrier
foodable’s subscription approach was unprecedented, but Ohmiya and Seki were determined to move beyond conventional business models. To succeed, they knew they would have to collaborate with partners in the food industry—so they focused on finding partners who share Panasonic’s desire to create a new food culture through new services.
Seki is responsible for planning and developing foodable services and cultivating co-creation partners. Together with four colleagues who have a passion for new food experiences, they have been making the most of their diverse perspectives.
At first, however, they continued to face the same question: “Why is Panasonic interested in a food company like ours—home appliances and foods are completely different!” Looking back, Ohmiya says, “We had to explain to them the significance of the collaboration. We believed that ‘the combination of home appliances and foods’ brings new value to consumers.”
A breakthrough occurred with the support of Kuriya Co., Ltd., a gohan (rice) sommelier with which it had a longstanding relationship. Kuriya was already offering a small-portion, two-pack set that allowed consumers to compare different types of brand-name rice, so Ohmiya brought a Panasonic rice cooker to Kuriya, cooked a variety of rice at the appropriate settings, and sold them on the idea of a monthly subscription package combining rice cookers and small portions of brand-name rice.
Partner’s Voice—Shingo Tokunaga, President & CEO of Kuriya Co., Ltd.
“We’ve been doing business together for some time, and decided to collaborate on foodable because our strength—the small, single-serving packs—were a good fit,” says Shingo Tokunaga, President & CEO of Kuriya Co., Ltd., as he describes the process of co-creation with Panasonic. “The custom rice cooker settings bring out the characteristics of each area and variety. I felt that Panasonic was committed to conveying this appeal to consumers, and was excited to help them do so.”
Panasonic and Kuriya worked hard to convey to foodable customers the wide variety of delicious rice available. Although Kuriya specializes in rice, the company still had to purchase as many varieties as possible to come as close as possible to the 63 custom settings, repeatedly taste-testing each brand to understand its characteristics. “When we first started out, we shipped a lot of well-known brands, but as our product lineup expanded, we gradually began to receive orders for rare local brands and new varieties. Being able to track the actual number of orders is a great way to monitor trends,” says Tokunaga.
The Panasonic team and Tokunaga have often talked about how we would like to deliver a service that adds palatability to rice and enriches the dining experience. “We hope to continue to evolve the service—cultivating new varieties, discovering new producers, and disseminating information—so that customers get excited about their rice,” says Tokunaga.
New partnerships expand foodable courses beyond rice
In October 2022, foodable’s first premium course, the Home Reward Gourmet Experience Course, was offered in collaboration with Rock Field, Co., Ltd., a company known for high-quality, authentic refrigerated side dishes.
“The idea was to make it easy for busy people to enjoy restaurant-quality ‘reward’ foods,” says Seki. “Rock Field is committed to enhancing the value of nakashoku* prepared foods based on the values of health, safety and security, taste, freshness, service, and the environment. We co-create services with the common goal of enriching the time people spend around the dinner table.”
*Nakashoku: the practice of buying prepared foods and eating them at home.
foodable is also partnering with Masuya Shoten of Tokachi, Hokkaido, on a course for Panasonic’s home bakery, Bistro. “We were impressed by Masuya Shoten’s desire to promote the excellence of Tokachi’s food and agriculture,” says Seki.
Positive feedback about foodable filters back to the development team on a daily basis. “I thought Panasonic was an appliance maker, but that image has changed!” or “I didn’t know Panasonic offered this kind of service.” Customer comments also inspire the development of new courses, such as the World Cafe Tour at Home and the Glamping Smoking Experience at Home.
“The service has prompted many comments from co-creation partners who want to use foodable as an opportunity to change the way they operate their businesses,” says Ohmiya.
Quality ingredients are more expensive, and people often demand more of lesser quality goods for the same price—allowing cheaper products to dominate the market while high-quality products disappear without people ever appreciating their true value. “I’d like to elevate rice culture through the experience of cooking and enjoying different varieties. As an industry, we want to continue to offer high quality as a choice,” says Ohmiya. “We are changing the future of food with our co-creation partners.”
Helping to create a new food culture
Ohmiya and Seki both believe that Panasonic has a culture where people with high potential can gather together and take on challenges as a team.
“If we were a company that only manufactures products, we might be able to say, ‘We deliver the product—we’re done.’ But we have to be more than that,” adds Seki. “For our customers, the journey starts when they get their appliances, so we support our customers from that point onward.”
The company is also looking at new initiatives to for handling kitchen appliances that have completed their subscription period. Rice cookers can be purchased after 12 consecutive months of rental, home bakeries after 15 months, and microwave ovens after 12 or 24 months (depending on the course). Appliances returned at the end of the contract period are refurbished and reused.
Through foodable, Panasonic will continue to work with producers and other food industry partners to improve its services and provide customers with new food experiences while continuing to tackle food-related social issues and taking on the challenge of realizing a life of well-being.
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