Summary

  • Panasonic introduced "The Roast" to the market in 2017. It is a subscription service that enables people to enjoy roasting coffee beans at home.
  • Every month subscribers get a delivery of green beans, and the innovative IoT roaster can be controlled via a mobile app.
  • The Roast was developed through open innovation, with input from many collaborators.
  • Take a look behind the scenes of development, how this concept came about, and the sizeable impact The Roast is having on the coffee industry.

The Roast brings master roasting techniques to coffee breaks at home

Due to COVID-19, we have had stay indoors and spend more time at home. So, the way we enjoy coffee has begun to change. According to the All Japan Coffee Association, the concept, "café at home" has become quite popular in 2020, so much so that the consumption of coffee at home has rapidly increased. And more and more people have become interested in ways to brew great coffee at home. People who are working from home have probably started to drink too much coffee as a result.

Until now, people have been drinking, for the most part, instant coffee, or coffee in drip bags at home. Of course, there are coffee connoisseurs who will not settled for ground coffee, who purchase coffee beans roasted by specialist coffee bean stores, mill the beans at home, and brew a cup of coffee with much care and attention. But what if you could roast the beans yourself at home? This would be an experience coffee-lovers would not be able to resist.

Panasonic's The Roast introduced in 2017 lets you roast the beans in your home. But the roaster is just one device in the ecosystem. With the Roast Basic service designed for households, subscribers get a delivery of green beans each month. And the profiles (roasting recipes) reflecting the techniques of master roasters will roast the beans. Most of the operations for the digital home appliance can be performed via the app, and the roasting status is also made visible. Simply put, it is an IoT platform that even includes coffee beans.

Photo: Person controlling The Roast using the app.

Controlling The Roast using the app.

Open innovation brought to life through collaboration

Tatsuya Ii of the Panasonic Corporation Appliances Company, Business Development Center has been involved in the development of The Roast and still serves as the project leader. This is a rare endeavor by Panasonic, and he describes it as follows.

"Unlike in the past, when thing ended with the 'consumption of goods,' The Roast project is about 'consuming experiences' and it is circular. That is its key concept. The coffee market is growing, so we were looking for new territory in the coffee industry. That is when we decided to speak to S. Ishimitsu & Co., Ltd., a coffee importer with whom we have had a relationship developing our coffee makers. They advised us that 'Roasting is essential in determining the taste of coffee.' That is why we decided to focus on a roaster for the home, which was, at the time, quite rare."

Photo: Tatsuya Ii, Leader, The Roast Project, Business Development Center, Appliances Company, Panasonic Corporation

Tatsuya Ii
Leader
The Roast Project
Business Development Center
Appliances Company
Panasonic Corporation

It is said that the 70% of the taste of coffee depends on the green beans, 20% on roasting, and 10% on distillation. That is why, from the onset, they wanted to provide a scheme where they would "deliver green beans every month and a master roaster would supervise the taste." But Mr. Ii and his team were not coffee experts. Moreover, since they belong to the new business development division, they had a limited number of people who could work on the project, so they decided to adopt open innovation and welcomed cooperation from external partners to launch the service quickly.

"The most difficult thing was to come up with the scheme. We wanted to go beyond traditional cooking appliances, and to do so, we needed to develop a comprehensive proposal including the provision of produce," said Mr. Ii. They first met with Naoki Goto, the inaugural "World Coffee Roasting Champion" introduced by S. Ishimitsu. The team gained further momentum when Mr. Goto agree to come on board, and they suddenly saw a clear path forward.

The roles were divided as follows. S. Ishimitsu was responsible for procuring the green beans. Mr. Goto was responsible for creating the profiles. And the service was to be managed by Panasonic. Furthermore, to develop The Roast, they made the unparalleled move to work with a UK venture, IKAWA. Based on the compact digital roaster IKAWA had developed, Panasonic redesigned the components such as the substrate to create hardware suitable for Japan. "A decade ago, we would have tried to create a roaster from scratch using our collective strengths, but that would have been time-consuming and cost-extensive. All eyes inside our firm are on us as a powerful open innovation example," noted Mr. Ii.

Graph: Change in freshness, fragrance/aroma, and taste after roasting.

The key benefit of home roasting is that you can enjoy the true flavor of coffee beans. "Fragrance" refers to the scent when the beans are ground, and "aroma" the scent when coffee is distilled and is an indicator of flavor.

Subscribers will receive a delivery of specialty coffee beans produced all around the world. Specialty coffee refers to coffee beans that have scored at least 80 out of 100 in the criteria set by the Specialty Coffee Association.

"Procuring good quality beans for a fair price will help us give back to the local producers and contribute to the sustainable production of coffee. By providing a coffee roasting experience like never before, people's awareness for specialty coffee may improve, ultimately contributing to the entire coffee industry. So, it's not purely a business. It would be ideal if we can share happiness with each and everyone involved," added Mr. Ii.

Photo: The Roast.

The Roast.

The Roast is an "IoT tool that can change the world"

Mr. Goto runs a coffee bean specialty store, "Tokado Coffee" mainly in the Onojo City, Fukuoka Prefecture area. He provides roasting profiles Mr. Ii describes as "Indispensable to The Roast" that are suitable for each type of green bean. He even creates three types of profiles for each bean--light, medium, and dark roast, which users can choose from depending on his/her mood or preference.

Photo: Mr. Goto's coffee bean specialty store,

Mr. Goto's coffee bean specialty store, "Tokado Coffee." Inside you will find trophies he has won in Japan and overseas.

Mr. Goto said looking back, "When Panasonic first contacted me, I thought it was about a coffee maker," but he was surprised that it was an offer to create a roaster for the home and even profiles as well. "To recreate professional taste at home, you need to have a roaster that can deliver a high level of accuracy. Panasonic said that if they can't overcome that hurdle, there is no point in starting this service. This is when I knew they were dead serious."

Photo: Naoki Goto, World Coffee Roasting Champion 2013, Owner Roaster, Tokado Coffee

Naoki Goto
World Coffee Roasting Champion 2013
Owner Roaster, Tokado Coffee

When Mr. Goto saw the roaster IKAWA had developed, product that The Roast is based off of, he said that it was even difficult for professionals to handle, let alone people using it at home. "I told them what I thought, frankly, but they wanted to make improvements, so I decided to help with the development."

Roasting profiles for homes that bring out the full fragrance/aroma and taste of coffee have never been created before. So, development was quite challenging. Home appliances are completely different in spec, i.e., power voltage, from professional machines. Mr. Goto went on to explain, "It's difficult to realize both the performance that professionals want and safety, so we kept taking one step forward, two steps back. But with their superior technical capability, of Panasonic engineers managed to do both, and the model they created was something truly extraordinary and went even further than the base model." In the end Panasonic developed a masterpiece that even impressed a professional roaster.

"When roasting coffee beans, you have to watch over it every second to detect even the slightest changes in the beans. But I was quite surprised that a profile I had created could be reproduced elsewhere. I began to think that this was a tool that would certainly change the world. I witnessed firsthand the potential IoT has, and I was moved. It was almost as if I saw the first ray of light after Big Bang. I'm still experiencing its aftereffect, but once it becomes more widespread, I think it will begin to provide more value than we had imagined," noted Mr. Goto.

Adopted by master roasters to help run a busy specialty store
Contributing to raising the level of the entire industry

Panasonic has already received positive user feedback. Some users have said that they find it refreshing to be able to roast the beans themselves and that it enriches their lives. As mentioned at the beginning of the article, people are spending more time at home, and avid coffee-lovers are especially starting to focus more on experience. On the website, "AKATITI," Panasonic is sharing information about coffee, and with their first order, subscribers get a "journey book" featuring information about the coffee farms and interviews with buyers. Mr. Ii stated, "Another benefit of The Roast is that not only do you get great tasting coffee, but also interesting knowledge and stories about coffee."

In 2018, Panasonic began offering "The Roast Expert Service" for coffee connoisseurs. The ability to even create your own profiles, will let you go further down the rabbit hole. Actually, there is greater demand for this service among professionals than general consumers. When roasting, you need to start with a small sample before roasting a large batch, and you usually have to use a gas fired roaster that takes time to prep. But with The Roast, all you have to do is plug it into a regular household outlet, and the sample roast is ready in 1/4 the time. Many of Mr. Goto's acquaintances have also began using The Roast.

Photo: Person controlling The Roast with a tablet.

The Roast can be connected to and controlled by a tablet.

"Coffee bean specialty stores serve as both a manufacturer and a café, so they tend to be extremely busy. They must also choose the ingredients and profile and develop products. The Roast is fantastic as it significantly saves time. It's also useful for budding connoisseurs to train their palate. Micro adjustments can be made to the settings, so you can learn to detect very fine differences in taste. I commuted to a famous store in Asakusa, Tokyo three years ago all the way from Fukuoka to learn the trade, but The Roast can be a powerful education tool for budding connoisseurs. I believe it can contribute to raising the level of the entire industry," concluded Mr. Goto.

Panasonic is also contemplating utilize the user data acquired through the app to continue to offer innovative services. "IoT makes it possible to be connected from afar. We will work with Mr. Goto and other collaborators to develop new services," noted Mr. Ii. Their challenge to offer the "ultimate coffee experience" continues.

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