Wednesday, March 14, 2018

What is a PLU Sticker?

Apple, Granny, Smith, Green, Variety  A PLU or price look up number is assigned to every piece of fruit or vegetables.  If there is no sticker on the produce, the cashier looks it up in their list, assuming they know what it is.  Otherwise they ask the customer and hope they find it.  But what do the numbers really tell you?

The PLU is either a four or five digit number.  If its a four digit number usually beginning with 3 or 4, you know the produce has been grown the traditional way with pesticides.

The five digit PLU's provide additional information.  If the first number is 8, then the produce has been genetically modified in some way while a first number of 9 indicates the produce is organically grown.

These codes are maintained by the International Federation for Produce Standards (IFPS). These codes have been used by grocery stores since 1990 as a way to make check-out and inventory much easier and more accurate.   They are primarily assigned to for use with fresh produce and reduces the need for cashiers to identify various fruits and vegetables.

The thing about PLU stickers is their use is voluntary by retailers so its possible to find produce without any stickers on them.  Second, these codes were actually developed for producers and retailers to help sort and price produce, not for consumers.  Further more, the codes are randomly assigned within the 3000, 4000, and other series.  Once the number is assigned to a specific fruit or vegetable, it appears in a data base.  Some are retailer assigned which means that the retailers may assign these numbers to various varieties of apples, or oranges.and cannot be randomly chosen.  The unassigned numbers are available for the IFPS to use in the future.

As mentioned before, the system is totally voluntary and is not mandated by any governmental body but there have been over 1400 codes assigned so far. If the produce is bagged up and sold it does not use a PLU sticker.  Instead it is tagged with a Universal Product Code.

The Universal Product Code is a bar code used for produce that is sold with a fixed weight, count, or volume such as 10 pounds of potatoes.  The UPC is a barcode with a 12 digit number number used to identify the produce.  There are two types of UPC's.  The first is the generic UPC which is assigned a 033383 prefix to identify a single item.  The second is a company specific UPC which is assigned unique company specific prefix which identifies both the item and supplier of the item.

The 12 digit code is broken up so the first six digits is either a generic prefix or the company specific prefix.  The next five digits represents the item reference number provides information on the item such as variety, region where grown, grade, package size, etc.  The last digit is the check digit and is calculated from the other numbers in the barcode.

Furthermore the company specific prefix ranges from 6 to 10 digits which means the reference number ranges from 5 to 1 digit and the check is always one digit.  There is also a UPC data base which contains over 12,000 generic UPC numbers for fresh fruits and vegetables.

I didn't realize that PLU's are only for bulk.  I thought they applied to the packages of produce so I learned so much writing this.  Let me know what you think.  I'd love to hear.

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