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Hotspots brings you the Mintel Trends team’s top observations on product and service launches from around the world. From turning landfills into energy supply to a rental unit company offering rooms to couples that are going through ‘corona divorce’, check out the most innovative global initiatives happening this month.

South Africa – Waste to Energy

Technotherm in South Africa has found a way to turn biomass in landfills into gas for energy supply. Technotherm is a supplier and manufacturer of thermal products. It has used pyrolysis technology to put biomass through a thermal decomposition process that can achieve yields of gas products up to 85% based on the starting dry biomass weight. The technology could be used to reduce the reliance on landfill sites and offer energy to reduce the strain on South Africa’s power grid. It will also increase recycling rates to help meet government targets and is claimed by Technotherm to have higher profitability than competitor designs.

The focus on sustaining the planet’s resources is at an all-time high. Consumers are changing their behaviour to be more eco-conscious and are expecting brands to do the same. Many are using greener energy sources, making pledges to be carbon-neutral and empowering consumers to lead more environmentally friendly lives by offering recycling facilities. The focus on food waste is increasing with brands turning by-products of manufacturing such as coffee grounds into new items such as crockery or fuel for transport. Methods that can do this on a larger scale will allow communities to be less polluted by waste and aid a more sustainable and healthy future.

Helen Fricker – Trends Manager, EMEA

Japan – Give Me A Break

Japanese rental unit service Kasoku has launched a programme to give couples temporary distance between each other. Japan declared a State of Emergency in mid-April, and as a result, many consumers have been confined at home for prolonged periods of time. This has led to an increase in stress levels and frustration from having to remote work, and consequently disagreements amongst married couples. The trending hashtag #coronarikon (corona divorce) reflects the rise of couples seeking divorce after realising their clashing values, especially surrounding their response to the virus. In the age of a global pandemic, consumers are re-evaluating their priorities in life, and services such as Kasoku’s rental units allow consumers to take a deep look into their relationship to determine if it’s worth the emotional investment.

Although some cities have begun to reopen, Japan’s State of Emergency declaration has been extended to the end of May. This will likely give rise to more couples in need of time apart, especially for vulnerable people in domestic abuse situations. Future innovations should target consumers in need of legal consultation for speedy divorce proceedings, such as online divorce services and protection programmes.

Joyce Lam – Trends Analyst, Asia Pacific

China – A Concert at 4am

Huawei has partnered with composers to turn sleep data from young mothers into a musical composition. The sleep data is captured using the activity-tracking features of Huawei’s GT2 smartwatch, which is able to track various phases of sleep, use AI for analysis and offer personalised recommendations to improve sleep quality.

Acknowledging the loss of sleep that accompanies parenthood, Huawei obtained sleep data from a set of mothers, and invited composers to develop a musical interpretation of the data. The result is a three-minute short film, dubbed The Concert at 4am, which was launched on the night of Mother’s Day.

Huawei’s short film for Mother’s Day aims to challenge the thought that data and technology are cold and emotionless, while also highlighting the advanced features of its latest smartwatch. The latter is particularly important as ownership of wearable devices continues to drop in China. Consumers are losing interest in the basic functions of wearables as these are largely replaced by smartphones, but at the same time, differentiated innovations are lacking. By stressing the ability to do AI-enabled analyses and give personalised health recommendations, Huawei wants to capture the attention from not only mothers, but any consumer who is becoming more health-conscious.

Melanie Nambiar – Trends Analyst, Southeast Asia

US – A Butter Wi-Fi Connection

Land O’Lakes is offering free Wi-Fi access outside many of its company locations, manufacturing facilities, and other businesses in 11 US states. The six-week program launched near the end of April 2020 and is part of the company’s advocacy for significant broadband infrastructure investment in rural areas.

Each facility has designated a portion of its parking lot for Wi-Fi users, which will allow for proper social distancing practices: guests are asked to stay in their cars while using the Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi access is available at locations in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

The pandemic has highlighted many of society’s pre-existing inequities and one of those is unequal access to the internet at home. While the world turns toward digital services and solutions in education, commerce, and healthcare, those who lack adequate access to broadband are being left behind. The global marketplace has innovated on the basis of internet access as a standard of living but that flawed notion inherently neglects swathes of the global population. In the same way that US consumers expect to, reliably, have access to utilities such as water and electricity, we can confidently express that Wi-Fi access now falls within those basic necessities needed to live a healthy and engaged life in contemporary society. Brands such as Land O’Lakes are stepping up to offer temporary solutions but part of their initiatives is lobbying legislators to implement long-term institutional solutions, which is the only reliable and effective method of solving this issue.

Alex Milinazzo – Trends Analyst, US

Argentina – Parking Bot

Boti is a new chatbot for the city of Buenos Aires that informs users if they are allowed to park in the exact location from where users submit the query. The local city government has developed a new chatbot that provides 24/7 information to drivers on where they can park within the city of Buenos Aires. Drivers send a message to the bot via WhatsApp and are immediately asked to share their WhatsApp location. Using geolocation technology, the chatbot sends information regarding permitted parking for the area where the user is currently located. The same bot can also provide information regarding the closest police and fire stations, hospitals and other entities that might be useful to drivers while they are on the street.

Consumers are increasingly open to interacting with bots and to “speaking” with their favorite brands through digital tools. This is extremely useful and perhaps the only solution in times of crisis such as the COVID-19 outbreak when consumers cannot leave their homes and are restricted to interacting with brands and companies through remote channels. Consumers are now taking financial and even healthcare advice from bots, and are trusting their assets and personal information to cloud platforms since they do not have other options for their daily routines during the imposed lockdown. Companies are running against the clock in order to be able to provide these solutions to consumers as the pandemic took many by surprise and is pushing businesses to show flexibility in adapting to consumers’ current reality.

Vanessa Rondine – Trends Analyst, Latin America