Why you should care about stickers on your fruit

Stickers on fruits and vegetables are officially known as PLU codes or price look-up codes.

Initially, in the 1990s, they contained bar codes only to facilitate inventory control. Soon, logos and website URLs were added. Now they are rather ingenious, tiny billboards.

In fact, a PLU sticker turns a banana into a brand. It doesn’t stop there. For example, put a few lettuce heads into a plastic bag, and, surprise, they turn into a “value-added vegetable product.” The “value-added” piece translates into more profit for food distributors, presumably because putting lettuce heads into a plastic bag with a PLU code on it makes our lives more convenient.

The 1400 PLU codes in circulation around the world today symbolize the globalization and the commercialization of basic food commodities.

I’ve been exploring this theme in the PLU Codes Project. This multi-year project includes a series of multi-media visual art pieces — all of them intended to make you smile, and, maybe, make you pause for a moment. I welcome your comments.

Photo credit: Detail of la Orana Maria, 1891, modified with PLU code, trademark TM Chiquita. Original image: Paul Gauguin (1848–1903). At the MET in NY, NY. Oil on canvas 113.7 cm x 87.6 cm. Bequest of Sam A. Lewisohn, 1951.  Concept copyright 2017 © by Nandy Heule

2 thoughts on “Why you should care about stickers on your fruit

  1. Some great ‘food for thought’ Nandy. I remember seeing a sticker on an apple once that announced…”cholesterol free!”….duh. I think of the poor humans who have had to memorize all these codes at the grocery store checkout but I’m thankful for them…inevitably I end up with a PLU free item at the self-checkout which then begins a hunt through the menu, until I am interrupted by a thoughtful clerk who yells me the code and I can punch it in and carry on! Love your art piece and feel immensely proud to have contributed in an ever so small way by collecting some stickers with you in England when you visited. A rotting banana makes a point…hmmm, clever. I never know what you are up to with your art, but it is always creative, interesting, whimsical, and thoughtful!! Well done!


  2. Thanks for your comments. Here’s the funny part … I don’t have a clue what I’m up to either! This summer, I’m trying to draw (i.e. imitate) Rembrandt sketches. I can’t remember having this much fun for a long time.


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