Shop Smarter and Faster: Your Guide to PLU Codes

October 20, 2015

Ever wondered what the stickers on your produce actually stood for?

Ever wondered what the stickers on your produce actually stood for? PLU or Price Look Up codes have been used by supermarkets since 1990 to make check-out and inventory control easier, faster and more accurate. The codes are used to identify bulk produce and often related items such as nuts and herbs.

You’ve seen them before! They are the four or five digit numbers that are on the small sticker applied to the individual piece of fresh produce. The number identifies produce items based upon various attributes, which can include the commodity, variety, growing methodology (e.g. organic), and the size.

Who Administers PLU?
The numbers are assigned by the International Federation of Produce Standards (IFPS) after rigorous review at both national and international levels, as a service to growers, shippers, and food retailers to improve the supply chain efficiency of shipping fresh produce. PLU codes are used in Chile, Canada, UK, Australia, Norway, New Zealand, and in the US. The codes ensure that the accurate price is paid by consumers by removing the need for cashiers to identify the product and whether or not it is conventionally or organically grown.

Before You Shop:
Most sealed or packaged produce does not require PLU codes. Produce, sold by weight or by the unit in an unprocessed form, does require a PLU code. Produce is defined as fruits, vegetables, dried fruits, herbs, flavorings, and nuts. The small PLU sticker will be on each item, on containers of bulk/loose produce or on the cord that holds bunched produce.

How to Read Labels:
Labels have four to five numbers, and there are hundreds. The first number reveals the general category, the others the variety and origin, e.g. Apples/ Fiji/ Washington. The PLU coding system is voluntary, not mandated by any governing body. There are currently over 1400 PLU codes issued for fresh produce and produce related items. 

Choices: The following numbers are universal:
Beginning with 9: signifies organically grown
Beginning with 4 (or in the future 8): conventionally grown produce
Beginning with 48 or 49: signifies fresh herbs
Beginning with 31 or 49: signifies nuts

Smarter Shopping: Put your kids in charge of the produce and have them select a new fruit or vegetable each week, and tell the family about it.