Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Decoding the PLU's on those fruit stickers


Smithy
 Share

Recommended Posts

OK, *grumble*, I agreed to post this question to the assembled masses in the interest of domestic tranquillity. Besides, it gave me an excuse to log onto eGullet, not that I usually need one. :wink:

Every year at this time of year my husband and I run into an issue of quality vs. convenience when it comes to stone fruit. I'm a purist. We had trees in our back yard, whence we received the heavenly gifts of truly ripe nectarines, peaches, and apricots, all in their proper time. When the fruit finally hits our grocery stores now, I'm sniffing, looking, weighing, and considering. If it smells like the fruit in question, I'll buy it - no questions asked. I want the good stuff.

My husband, bless him, defines "good stuff" differently: to him, "good stone fruit" must be freestone. Clings are too messy. If it isn't quite ripe, never quite turns soft, or doesn't have full flavor, he doesn't care. Any approximation will do as long as it's a freestone. (He is an otherwise charming and sensible man. :raz: )

We've tried taking a listing of cling vs. freestone varieties to the grocery store and comparing the list to the labels on the display boxes. As a rule we strike out there on two counts: first, we haven't found a comprehensive listing, so Cub inevitably has some variety not listed; and second, as the stock turns over it isn't unusual to find a stack of boxes, some saying "Summer Grand" and some saying "Summer Fire", and not knowing which fruit is which in the stack.

I should note that the stockboys at our grocery store don't know a cling from a freestone, much less what's in stock at the moment, and the produce manager - when we've found him - has been only marginally more helpful, in that he knew the difference but was wrong about what he had.

Darling thinks that the 4-digit codes on the fruit labels tell the fruit variety. I think he's mistaken, but we've each taken notes and arrived at opposite conclusions. Somebody here probably already knows the answer. What the heck do those 4-digit codes on the fruit stickers mean? Are they variety, supplier, or something else? Is there a code telling characteristics? Is there some way we haven't found yet to tell which class of fruit we're getting? Or are we destined to continue selecting fruit according to our own guesses, and never knowing until we get home who will be eating it? :biggrin:

Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

Follow us on social media! Facebook; instagram.com/egulletx; twitter.com/egullet

"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)
"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Sure enough, those PLU codes actually identify the type of produce. I haven't memorized a great number of them, but one I've seemed to memorize is 4131, which is a Fuji apple. That's mainly because it's one of my favorite types of apples. Sometimes at the stores, signs in the produce section are mislabeled, such as with different types of apples or other other produce with variations. When I ask someone to grab some Fuji apples, I'll sometimes mention the PLU code in case the apples are placed with the wrong sign. After all, not everyone can distinguish between a number of varieties of apples, myself included to a degree.

Here are a couple random sites I found when I looked this matter up on a search engine.

http://www.supermarketpage.com/prucodes.php

http://www.cffresh.com/faqs/stickers.html

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Darling thinks that the 4-digit codes on the fruit labels tell the fruit variety.  I think he's mistaken, but we've each taken notes and arrived at opposite conclusions. 

The PLU# tells that supermarket what to charge for that product at that time, it is usually (as the computer jargon would have it) non-meaningful, i.e. there is no inherent meaning in the code, so right now a 4131 might be a Fuji apple, in 6 months time a could be some kind of celery. You could go to a different supermarket and a Fuji apple right now could be a 6539. UPC# on the other hand usually contains a reference which allows you to determine what it is (because they are used by the suppliers who will supply the same product to several markets) and contains within it references to the supplier.

On the freestone thing most (but not all) fruit sold retail is freestone, cling is used mainly for fruit that is processed.

Edited by britcook (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

The PLU# tells that supermarket what to charge for that product at that time, it is usually (as the computer jargon would have it) non-meaningful, i.e. there is no inherent meaning in the code, so right now a 4131 might be a Fuji apple, in 6 months time a could be some kind of celery. You could go to a different supermarket and a Fuji apple right now could be a 6539.

But those little stickers are put on the fruit by the packers, not by the store. The stores use the PLU as part of the register's pricing database, but I don't think the stores have control over which PLUs are on which fruit. And since a Fuji apple is probably not packed by the same packer as celery, I don't think they can be transfered casually.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I agree with Rachel on this and as regular shopper at Wegman's I've gotten to know some of the codes pretty well. They adopted a system that has scales and label printers dispersed throughout the produce department. Although it's not require, most people weigh and tag their own bags of produce as it lessens wait time at the register (and also helps you keep a running tally of what you're spending.

The little tags with the four digit code are indeed already on the fruit as someone else has pointed out. I've seen freshly opened boxes of fruit that prove this.

I'll disagree with the notion that stores just juggle four digit codes around form one produce type to another depending in the season. Watch a savvy and seasoned cashier in a busy grocery store - they have nearly all of the produce codes memorized by virtue of having used them on a daily basis for years.

But there's still no substitute for smelling, feeling, touchign and examing the fruit/produce. I routinely have to go through a number of pieces in any given box before I find one that is at or close to the desired ripeness level.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Organic fruits and veggies have six digit PLU codes.

Actuallly I think its 5 digits, and it starts with a "9"

Edited by Eden (log)

Do you suffer from Acute Culinary Syndrome? Maybe it's time to get help...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

But there's still no substitute for smelling, feeling, touchign and examing the fruit/produce. I routinely have to go through a number of pieces in any given box before I find one that is at or close to the desired ripeness level.

I absolutely agree with you on this point, and I shop as you do. The problem is that my husband wants only freestone fruit, even if it's of lower quality, and he wants to know how to tell which he's getting. I haven't worked out a way to sniff, feel or touch to figure that out. Looking at the box label only helps if I have a listing of fruit varieties, complete with whether it's a freestone or cling variety, and the listing includes the variety currently in the store. So far that approach has had minimal success because (a) there are often more than one variety in any given box, since the turnover is high, and (b) I haven't found a comprehensive listing, and the varieties shown on the box are frequently not on my list.

Thanks for the information so far, folks. Anyone else?

Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

Follow us on social media! Facebook; instagram.com/egulletx; twitter.com/egullet

"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)
"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I read that GM products are also 5 digits, but I can't remember what number they start with.

It's an "8."

A pretty good reference for PLU codes is at the International Federation for Produce Coding. The site is a little rough to negotiate, but most of the codes are there.

Dave Scantland
Executive director
dscantland@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics signatory

Eat more chicken skin.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

There's also a searchable list at Plucodes.com

Here's the entire list for peaches. It does not distinguish between freestone and cling varieties. Most white fleshed peaches are freestone but apparently there are a few exceptions to that rule.

PLU  /Commodity Variety + Variety Info/ Size /Restrictions

3113 PEACHES Donut/Flat Chinese        

3116 PEACHES Yellow Flesh Tree Ripened/Ready-to-eat Small  for items grown in East N.A.  

3117 PEACHES Yellow Flesh Tree Ripened/Ready-to-eat Large Restricted for items grown in East N.A.  

3313 PEACHES White Flesh Tree Ripened/ Ready-to-eat Small  

3314 PEACHES White Flesh Tree Ripened/ Ready-to-eat Large 

3375 PEACHES de Vigne & Sanguine (Red Flesh)  

4037 PEACHES Yellow Flesh   Small    

4038 PEACHES Yellow Flesh   Large    

4043 PEACHES Yellow Flesh Tree Ripened/Ready-to-eat Small    

4044 PEACHES Yellow Flesh Tree Ripened/Ready-to-eat Large    

4399 PEACHES Indian        

4400 PEACHES White Flesh   Small    

4401 PEACHES White Flesh   Large    

4402 PEACHES Yellow Flesh   Small Restricted for items grown in East N.A.  

4403 PEACHES Yellow Flesh   Large Restricted for items grown in East N.A.  

4404 PEACHES Retailer Assigned        

4405 PEACHES Retailer Assigned  

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Here's a scary thought (heard from someone at work, so I'm skeptical of its truthfulness).

Those little stickers were not put on for the packers, or the supermarkets, or the farmers.

They were put on as a way of making the fruit/veg look more "manufactured," and thus entice more dumb, gullible Americans to eat more of it. Yeah, dimwit, that peach you're eating came out of the "peach factory." Somehow, I can't quite believe this is true because I can't believe anybody would be so thick as to believe that a piece of fruit or a vegetable had been made in a factory.

Said co-worker also mentioned that they would be phasing these stickers out, for which I would be eternally grateful - nothing's worse than peeling those things off.

"I just hate health food"--Julia Child

Jennifer Garner

buttercream pastries

Link to comment
Share on other sites

. . . .

Said co-worker also mentioned that they would be phasing these stickers out, for which I would be eternally grateful - nothing's worse than peeling those things off.

This part is correct. No one in the supply chain likes stickers. A company is Georgia is working on a laser "tattoo" to replace them. There's a thread here.

Dave Scantland
Executive director
dscantland@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics signatory

Eat more chicken skin.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't believe the "manufactured" story. From what I've been told, it helps track the produce so they have a better idea of what's selling, from where, and to where it's going. I confess, however, that I can't see why the old packing cartons didn't accomplish the same thing.

The phase-out of the stickers is true, at least if hearing about it from 3 independent sources can be taken as truth. (I'm not in the business, so it all may be a pack o' lies.) According to what I've heard, they're working on a laser tattoo system instead. Nobody else likes those stickers, either.

I am amused that in the last few years the citrus industry has been working toward the stickers and away from the little ink stamps they've traditionally used...and here the stone fruit folks are losing the stickers.

Thanks for the web sites, folks. It doesn't help us determine the fruit variety, but it'll entertain us as we compare PLU's to the list to see what else we can learn.

Edited to add: I see Dave had the same tattoo information, but more so. Good job, sir.

Edited by Smithy (log)

Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

Follow us on social media! Facebook; instagram.com/egulletx; twitter.com/egullet

"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)
"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I was a produce manager for a few years, and we were given limited authority in ordering. Peaches were ordered as peaches, we received whatever the company chose to send based upon their price and availability. I would guess that maybe higher-end stores (Whole Foods, etc) could order by variety, but I was never given that option.

And yes, the stickers with the codes are placed before they arrive in the store, and are the same anywhere you go...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I was a produce manager for a few years, and we were given limited authority in ordering.  Peaches were ordered as peaches, we received whatever the company chose to send based upon their price and availability.  I would guess that maybe higher-end stores (Whole Foods, etc) could order by variety, but I was never given that option.

And yes, the stickers with the codes are placed before they arrive in the store, and are the same anywhere you go...

I think the ripeness window of most varieties is so short - only 2-3 weeks in most cases - that it just isn't practical to order by variety. Nonetheless the variety is marked on the packing carton, so if I can get the produce manager to tell me what variety they have in, I suppose I can compare that to my comprehensive variety listing (if I ever find one) to work out whether I should buy enough fruit for my husband as well as myself. As a former produce manager, Aileen, do you think it's practical to be able to call the produce manager and ask that question? Do you think it would be practical in a large store to post the variety? Right now the signs list general information: tree-ripe (ha) red peaches, California, $ss/lb. How much of a headache would it be to add varietal information, do you think?

Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

Follow us on social media! Facebook; instagram.com/egulletx; twitter.com/egullet

"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)
"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Unfortunately the PLU does not give information specific enough to determine variety or if you are getting a free or cling stone.

I am partial to a certain variety of nectarine (fantasia) and when I think it’s getting to be about that time I’ll ask the grocer to give me a heads up. In CA, the exact variety is printed by the packing house onto the boxes. If your store leaves the boxes out, just take a look. The variety name is usually something snappy or having to do with a lady like “Fantasia,” “Flavor Crest” or “Summer Lady.” Keep in mind that any given variety will only run for about a week or so. My favorite nectarine, the aptly named Fantasia, becomes harder and harder to find every year. I can understand why nobody will plant the thing… It is ugly and prone to all sorts of spots and mechanical damage, which puts it too far behind the ball in an industry that sells its product on the basis of only color and size. But it is the tastiest nectarine out there and I resent having to brawl with old ladies to get them.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think the ripeness window of most varieties is so short - only 2-3 weeks in most cases - that it just isn't practical to order by variety.  Nonetheless the variety is marked on the packing carton, so if I can get the produce manager to tell me what variety they have in, I suppose I can compare that to my comprehensive variety listing (if I ever find one) to work out whether I should buy enough fruit for my husband as well as myself.  As a former produce manager, Aileen, do you think it's practical to be able to call the produce manager and ask that question?  Do you think it would be practical in a large store to post the variety?  Right now the signs list general information: tree-ripe (ha) red peaches, California, $ss/lb.  How much of a headache would it be to add varietal information, do you think?

You're absolutely right about the ripeness window of most varieties, as well as the variety being marked on the carton.

I think it's totally practical to talk to the produce manager, either in person or on the phone, anytime you like. I enjoyed the relationships I had with customers who had specific interests. Most retail managers like helping out.

As for posting the variety, I would guess it would depend on the store. Once again, in my position I had limited (ok, no!) authority to modify the labels pricing the produce. Because we couldn't change the labels themselves, we would often stack produce using the boxes to show the variety when an exceptionally popular variety was in stock (example, Olathe sweet corn, Palisade peaches, Rocky Ford cantaloupe - all from Colorado). It's worth asking the produce manager, though. They may have more authority than I was given.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

There are too many varieties and, with the exception of a few, the season for each variety is too short to list.

There are dozens of peach varieties with the point of ripeness being one of the most important distinguishing characteristics between them. You see, you have to spread out your season planting enough different varieties that all of your trees do not ripen at once. If you only had one variety, that’s exactly what would happen. Almost all fruit within a given variety ripens simultaneously. Sure each variety will probably be available for a few weeks, but it’s only coming off the trees during one very short window. So, as a farmer, if you want to be selling fruit in May, August, and all those weeks in between, you better have a lot of different varieties to occupy your time. And, as a consumer, if you favor only one variety, your season will only really be a few days long, so you should can them, freeze them, or have a really good memory.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Because we couldn't change the labels themselves, we would often stack produce using the boxes to show the variety when an exceptionally popular variety was in stock (example, Olathe sweet corn, Palisade peaches, Rocky Ford cantaloupe - all from Colorado).  It's worth asking the produce manager, though.  They may have more authority than I was given.

Aileen, you're making me hungry and homesick for things I haven't eaten since I moved out of CO 7 years ago!

Our local supermarkets will write up signs telling us, for instance, that the corn came from So-and-so's farm in whatever city. We don't generally know a variety, except for apples and pears, even when we know who grew it. Our farmer's market vendors and farmstands in the area, however, will almost always tell us what variety they've grown, and if you ask and show an interest, they'll talk your ear off!

MelissaH

MelissaH

Oswego, NY

Chemist, writer, hired gun

Say this five times fast: "A big blue bucket of blue blueberries."

foodblog1 | kitchen reno | foodblog2

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Looks like fruit stickers may go the way of buggy whips and corkscrews soon anyway. Here's that piece about laser fruit tattooing, but not behind the NYT screen.

from the thinly veneered desk of:

Jamie Maw

Food Editor

Vancouver magazine

www.vancouvermagazine.com

Foodblog: In the Belly of the Feast - Eating BC

"Profumo profondo della mia carne"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The PLU# tells that supermarket what to charge for that product at that time, it is usually (as the computer jargon would have it) non-meaningful, i.e. there is no inherent meaning in the code, so right now a 4131 might be a Fuji apple, in 6 months time a could be some kind of celery. You could go to a different supermarket and a Fuji apple right now could be a 6539.
actually this is not true.

as sencha mentioned, 4131 is the code for fuji apple. this is true whereever you go and it will not change. 4131 will not code for some kind of celery or whatever in six months time.

94131 is the code for organic fujis and will always be so. this is true for your local albertsons, vons, winn dixies or the piggly wiggly down the street.

Watch a savvy and seasoned cashier in a busy grocery store - they have nearly all of the produce codes memorized by virtue of having used them on a daily basis for years.
exactly. scallions, onions, bananas and fuji apples are often the first ones memorized. cashiers dont even have to be savvy or seasoned. they will pick up the most common plus within the first week.

most plus are 4 or 5 digits, not 6. and as far as i know, there are the basic 4 digits, then you can stick a 9 in front of any plu and make organic. i dont know about the gm number (8) but i will believe it.

Said co-worker also mentioned that they would be phasing these stickers out, for which I would be eternally grateful - nothing's worse than peeling those things off.
yes, the new york times <a href="http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F10E12FF3C580C7A8DDDAE0894DD404482&incamp=archive:search">just mentioned this</a> (July 19, 2005 Tired of Prying Off Stickers? Tattooed Fruit Is on the Way. By JULIA MOSKIN). supermarket stores would also love to phase those nasty stickers away and lasers just might be the answer.

as it is, the reason why many (not all) markets just slap the same plu on peaches whether they are cling or freestones is probably a combination of: *) a lot of consumers (unlike smithy) dont care. they just want a peach and who cares if its freestone or cling? *) the stickers arent a good solution. they do fall off a lot and cashiers dont memorize all the different numbers for all the different varieties of apples, peaches, etc. *) a lot of smaller markets dont have the capacity to update all the produce prices. just easier to label all the peaches as peaches and move on to the next 40 changes/updates for the day. *)

Peaches were ordered as peaches, we received whatever the company chose to send based upon their price and availability.
yes, a lot of the times, there isnt a way to order a variety, and as smithy and fiftydollars said, it isnt practical to do so anyway since most varieties only have a short window of availability. get one type, then its on to the next variety that has ripened.

as you have concluded, it is best to figger out which varieties you like best and make best friends with a produce manager and try that way. not all managers have the time or the personality to help people like you out, but i know of a few that would. i am sure there are other kind souls too. they just folks doing a job. :wub:

"Bibimbap shappdy wappdy wap." - Jinmyo
Link to comment
Share on other sites

*FLASH* update! I went to the California Tree Fruit web site and basically asked the same question I asked here. Their representative (who works about 30 miles from where I grew up) very graciously responded within a day. She reports that no, the PLU's do not represent the fruit variety; that would require hundreds of PLU's and raise the complexity of supermarket listings to an unmanageable level. However, she said they're working on a comprehensive listing of stone fruit varieties and characteristics for their wholesalers. She says it's a bit unwieldy since it wasn't intended for publication on their web site, but she'll be happy to share it with me. That way I can cart it to the store with me, look at the fruit variety listed on the packing crates, and determine which segment of our household's market I'm shopping for that week.

This has been an interesting discussion, and I thank everyone here for his or her insights.

Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

Follow us on social media! Facebook; instagram.com/egulletx; twitter.com/egullet

"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)
"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...