My Failed Passion Project – By @CocoShellim

By Coco Shellim



My Failed Passion Project

Around a year ago whilst reading Sapiens I learnt how cows are treated in the milk industry (I won’t go into gory details). I was completely shocked. I knew it was bad and had successfully managed to avoid watching documentaries like Cowspiracy knowing how depressing it would be. I was frustrated that I never knew this, to be fair, I hadn’t been actively searching for this information but I just had no idea. When I go to the supermarket to buy milk, if I knew of one ethical brand of milk I would buy this brand, every time. 

It then got me thinking about how little consumers know about the food products they buy everyday. There are many people who do their research and are in the know, but for your average passive massive like myself I was totally clueless. So I teamed up with a pal and we came up with a great idea. 

The idea comes in the form of an app. You could walk into your local supermarket and pick an item off the shelf and scan it’s barcode. You would then receive a rating out of 10 with a traffic light colour system (bad = red, good= green). The rating is based on how ethical the product is. It took us a long time to come up with the categories, such as: how far had the product travelled to get to you? How were the animals treated? Is the packaging recyclable? etc. 

When you see the rating of the product you have scanned, you would be recommended similar products with a higher rating. In theory it would take you less than 10 seconds to scan your product and make an informed choice on what you were buying.

We realised that making a judgement on the ethical standards had a downside. If proven that we were inaccurate we could be taken to court and buried. Also we did not have the means to investigate every step of the product process for thousands of products. One solution for both problems was to use pre existing third party stamp certificates which products already had on their packaging. For example the MSC is a sustainable fishing council, who’s mark is on thousands of fish products in the UK with a recognisable stamp. The stamp guarantees that the fish in the product has been sustainably sourced by MSC’s guidelines. The council checks you every 6 months to ensure you are still reaching their standards. If you are not, you lose the right to put the stamp on your product. 

Once we uncovered this revelation, we realised there was a whole host of different stamps for different areas, all ready to go and packaged on the products, simple. It was all going really well and there seemed to be hundreds of other ways we could build on it and the ideas kept coming. We were ready to fuck up the already fucked up food industry and change the world.

Until the moment we realised we had overlooked the crux of the app. We needed the supermarkets barcodes and underestimated how difficult this would be. Without the barcodes we had nothing to scan. Each barcode is specific to the supermarket and they refused to share their database with us (obviously). 

We would not let our baby be killed and so decided to try and manually scan the products in the supermarkets. How long could it really take, we would start with just meat and only in the 2 main supermarkets- Tescos and Sainsbury’s. It should only take a couple of weeks or months at most, right?

Very wrong. 

I went in armed with my scanning app and a podcast and started the very tedious task of doing inventory for a supermarket for free.

It took me about 2 hours to get through half the pork aisle.  At which point the enormity of the task became evident and the entire process would have to be constantly repeated to account for new products. 

We eventually agreed manually scanning was not an option, we would need someone on the inside.

I haven’t really given it much thought over the last 6 months, until now. I still think its a great idea. Listening to mentors saying how important passion projects are has given me the inspiration to pick this dead baby up and try again.


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