When we think of innovations in today’s supermarket, the mind easily jumps from farm to fridge blockchain tracking, to stores with a million cameras and no checkstands, or even to robots roaming grocery aisles. However, a smaller and much simpler piece of business technology has been pervasive in the marketplace for nearly three decades.

Price look-up codes (PLUs) are commonplace in nearly every major grocery store across North American and beyond. Since the first implementation of PLUs in 1990, various myths have circulated about how the lay shopper can read these labels to help inform their purchasing decisions. One such myth is that you can tell if a product is GMO by looking at its PLU. That’s simply not true. Unfortunately, in today’s confusing food labeling landscape, it’s hard to tell what’s in your food—and PLUs are not intended to help solve that problem.

That’s where we come in. The Non-GMO Project and thousands of participating brands, work hard to provide shoppers with meaningful non-GMO options, backed by our rigorous Standard. All you have to do is Look for the Butterfly.


Learn more about the facts behind PLUs:

What are PLUs?
Can I tell if a product is GMO or non-GMO from its PLU?
Can I tell if a product is organic from its PLU?
How are PLUs used?
Why are some foods labeled with PLUs while others are not?
Where did PLUs come from?
How are PLUs assigned and governed?
What about other PLU prefixes?


What are PLUs?

PLUs are four or five-digit numbers associated with bulk food items, often appearing on a small sticker applied to pieces of fresh produce or alongside the bins in a store’s bulk section of dried fruit and nuts, for example. PLU codes help grocery workers identify bulk foods based on various attributes including variety, size, and growing method (conventional vs. organic).

The standard four-digit PLU code is randomly assigned within a series of numbers. Five-digit PLUs are equivalent to their four-digit counterpart, with the addition of a prefix number to identify the method by which a product was grown.

No intelligence is built into any single digit of this code, but as a whole, it is used to identify bulk goods in a standardized format that makes grocer data universally comparable.

Can I tell if a product is GMO or non-GMO from its PLU?

No. The standard PLU code, designating a conventionally grown product, is four digits long. Though the IFPS once reserved prefix 8 to identify GMO foods, the prefix was stripped of this designation in July 2015 due to the unwillingness of GMO producers to use the number 8 prefix in a retail setting. IFPS maintains that it will recommission the 8 prefix in the future to accommodate a growing PLU database and assign universal PLUs to new varieties of bulk foods.

Shoppers who want to avoid GMOs can always look for the Non-GMO Project Verified mark to ensure the products they bring home are, in fact, non-GMO.

Can I tell if a product is organic from its PLU?

The standard PLU code, designating a conventionally grown product, is four digits long. The only prefix currently recognized by the IFPS for usage with PLUs is 9, which identifies an organically grown product. So, a product bearing a five-digit PLU code beginning in the number 9 would technically signify that product was organically grown.

If the PLU code for a conventionally grown yellow banana is 4011, an organically grown standard yellow banana would be 94011.

Before you go looking for the number 9, keep in mind that PLU codes are not implemented for shopper use. The IFPS recommends that consumers in search of organic products should always look for the USDA Organic seal on a product and/or consult their store’s produce or bulk section manager for more information.

How are PLUs used?

PLU codes are a simple, yet valuable business tool used in grocery stores to communicate universally recognizable electronic data around the sale of bulk goods. Common applications of PLU data in the marketplace are inventory control, accurate pricing at the register, and tracking of customer purchases. PLUs are not intended to convey information to shoppers.

Why are some foods labeled with PLUs while others are not?

PLU code usage is discretionary based on the grocer’s preference and on practicality. While stickers displaying PLUs are commonplace on fruits like bananas or apples, it’s hard to imagine individual nuts or green beans labeled in this manner. As an alternative to the traditional sticker display method, PLU codes are increasingly included on signage near products or otherwise affixed to them.

Where did PLUs come from?

PLUs were first implemented by grocery retailers in 1990 as a business tool to make check out and inventory control faster, easier, and more accurate.

How are PLUs assigned and governed?

PLUs are not regulated or required by any government, yet labeling bulk items with PLU codes is now commonplace in major grocery stores around the world. In their infancy, PLUs were primarily assigned by retailers and the information they conveyed was not universally agreed upon. In 2001, the International Federation for Produce Coding (IFPC) was founded by a coalition of fruit and vegetable associations with the goal of creating a global standard for the use of PLUs.

In 2006, the IFPC became known as the International Federation for Produce Standards (IFPS), which fulfills the same mission by assigning universal ​PLUs to bulk foods and maintaining a database of these items. According to the most recent available data from IFPS, 1,400 standardized PLU codes have been assigned to date.

A select range of PLUs are reserved by IFPS for retailer-assigned use. These are codes maintained in the IFPS’ database exclusively for retailers to use in association with the bulk products carried in their stores that have not been assigned a universal PLU code by the IFPS. Retailers are also welcome to submit applications for new PLU codes to be reviewed by IFPS.

What about other PLU prefixes?

Although PLUs starting with the prefix 6 have been spotted in retail settings, this prefix is not part of IFPS’ internationally recognized, standardized list of PLU codes and the organization does not comment on the use of this or any other unofficial prefix. IFPS recommends that shoppers contact the produce or bulk section manager at their local grocer using these prefixes for more information about their meaning.

Read more about PLU codes and standards from the International Federation for Retail Standards (IFRS)

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One Comment

Alfred Knight

glysophate is in everyting so why not gmos I try to eat healthy whenever but it is hard they could put gmos in your food and not label anything big brand names are putting the butterfly on their products what to do

Reply

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