THE MEANING BEHIND PRODUCE PLU CODES
Price Look Up codes or PLU’s as you might know them are the small peel-off labels on your fruits and vegetables that are purchased in the grocery store. You may have even accidentally eaten a few, but don’t worry the paper is edible and the ink and glue is food grade too, so it is perfectly safe.
PLU codes have been used in grocery stores since 1990 to make checkout quick, easy and accurate. The four or five digit codes actually have meaning beyond a price look up at the checkout. Just like a bar code, the PLU identifies the SKU (product item, size and price).
Want to know if the produce item was conventionally grown or if it is organic? The PLU code can help decipher that. PLUs leading with a number 3 or 4 identify produce items that are conventionally grown. Usually these codes are four digits in length and the PLU code range is 3000 to 4999. However, to allow for an increase in packaged produce in the coming years, the once reserved 83000 to 84999 series of numbers – originally designated for the now abandoned GMO produce SKU – will be split between conventional and organic to expand the number of available SKU’s. For conventional produce, the numbers 83000 to 83999.
In the current numbering system, if a PLU code starts with a 9, it means it is organically grown. This should be a 5-digit code and is a good way to know you have selected the right produce item if you choose to buy organic. With the expansion of produce items coming to market and the abandonment of the GMO number series, numbers 84000 to 84999 will be dedicated to organic produce.
If you search online for PLU’s, you will find many articles that mention codes 83000 to 84999 are dedicated to GMO produce. It is important to know this is no longer true. GMO PLU numbering was never implemented and these numbers are now being dedicated to conventional and organic produce. The federal GMO label ruling coming out in 2018 should address all food product labeling for clearer consumer understanding.
But what about the barcode on the PLU code label? The small double-decker barcode is virtually no different to a barcode on any stored purchased product. It looks different because it is stacked to fit into the small label real estate. Technically it is called a GS1 Databar Stacked Omnidirectional Barcode. You can read more about barcoding fresh produce here.
You might also see other fresh produce products packed and labeled with barcodes with Restricted Circulation Number (RCN). The RCN is for variable measure of products to identify product price. Alternatively you might see a GS1 Databar Expanded Stacked with additional data to provide data such as price per weight, unit price, and product expiry date.
Scan or type? If the fresh produce item has a barcode label, then it is good to scan at the checkout. If the produce product has a PLU code, simply enter this number and enter the quantity or weigh the products.
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ABOUT DEAN HORNSBY
Dean is passionate about sharing his deep knowledge about packaging and perfectly printed date codes. In his more than 25 years in the Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) industry, Dean has done and seen it all; from engineering to plant automation to vision and coding systems.