Ketchup as brass cleaner? This app shows you new ways to use expired food
“Use by.” “Best by.” “Sell by.”
Food labels are tricky business—especially in the U.S., where a lack of national labeling standards leads to 80 million tons of good food being thrown out every year. Carlos Thompson, president of de la Cruz Ogilvy, says that in the territory of Puerto Rico, about one third of food sold in supermarkets gets tossed because of such labels. So his agency and its client SuperMax, a grocery chain with a history of pursuing environmentally friendly practices, decided to do something about it. In the process, they have created Reusables, an AR-driven Instagram filter designed to take on food waste.
The goal of the project is to shift the notion of Use by to Use for. How that looks in practice: After users search for and apply the Reusables filter on Instagram (or log onto the Reusables website for the browser version), they can hold their camera up to an “expired” product and watch as its label changes before their eyes, suggesting multiple alternative uses for it (and its packaging) well beyond its stated lifecycle—with tutorials to boot.
Milk becomes a solvent to remove ink stains. Ketchup evolves into brass polish. Coffee gets a second life as a mosquito repellant.
After initially failing to develop the filter for TikTok (de la Cruz Ogilvy says the app didn’t have the capacity to properly change the labels), the team worked with Meta and its AR tech, and utilized computer vision for the browser variant. Following a deep dive into alternative uses for numerous goods, they then used machine learning to “hack” the products. Now, all it takes is a scan of, say, a bottle of Heinz ketchup past its prime, and the filter overlays the alternative use directly onto the label.
Reusables debuted in the spring after a year in development; while it only supported around 13 brands at launch, Thompson says SuperMax wants to continue adding products to bolster its real-world impact. He adds that thus far it has reached an audience of 45.1 million people, and has also drawn the interest of large companies and potential users from around the world, who want to know if they can utilize it in their country (they can, because the whole project is open source; the team says all anyone has to do is ask.)
“We wanted to create a movement and spread it everywhere,” de la Cruz Innovation Director Nánel Rodríguez says. “For me, it would be a dream to go to Italy, Germany, anywhere that is not Puerto Rico, and see people using the Reusables application and Reusables filter.”
This isn’t the first time de la Cruz Ogilvy and SuperMax have collaborated on a project that extends beyond the basic aisles of the grocery store.
Last year, they created The Eye Tracker to curb panic buying during hurricanes. The digital platform tracks storms in real time, and recommends a tailored amount of supplies based on family size, which it then links to SuperMax, allowing users to order essentials online and bypass long lines in the process.
As for those who do succumb to said panic and later find themselves with a pantry full of dated staples . . . well, now there’s an app for that. Or, rather, a filter.