Look closely. Next time you get a piece of fruit check out those really little stickers. They’re really works of art!! Read all about them below.

It’s that time of year when I really enjoy fresh fruit from the supermarket.  Not only the strawberries or apples (but I must admit the apples are amazing lately), but the variety of oranges, grapefruit, and pineapple that arrive from Florida, California, and Mexico.  Jackie and I love to make a fruit salad, mixing whatever we pick up from our local grocery store, and combining the flavors – there’s something special about fresh grapefruit juice … especially when added to some of my favorite adult beverages!  I was noticing the tiny little stickers on each of the fruits, and then hit the internet to find out more.  Where did these come from, how do they get the tiny UPC code on them, who designs the stickers and keeps track of all the vendors and all the codes?  I found some great info about the stickers (never knew the stickers have become collector’s items) and worldwide coordination of markings and wanted to share.  Special thanks to,, YouTube and Wikipedia for the info. Squeeze away!!

How Stickers are applied

  • Fruit stickers, or also known as “the world’s tiniest canvases for graphic design” have been around for almost a century.  Called a PLU sticker – short for Product or Price Look Up – feature a four- or five-digit number that lets cashiers know what the product is and then how much it costs.
  • Started back in the 30’s, with growth after World War II, the intricate illustrations gave way to more abstract graphics that made use of typography and striking colors. In recent years, some companies have continued to update their brand identity via the stickers. In the 1960s the brand Filosófo, for example, once sported a paper wrapper with concentric circles, illustrated stars, and a serif typeface. Today, it features a more contemporary typeface and a pristine, watercolor-like rendition of oranges adorned with blossoms. (the stickers are shaped like leaves).
  • The next evolution was a four-digit numbering system – numbers begin with a 3 or a 4 – which means the product was grown conventionally – five-digit combinations start with a 9 (then the product’s four-digit code), meaning it was organically grown.  An 8 was once used to denote GMO products, but that was dropped a few years back as the GMO designation didn’t affect price.
  • Whether you’re buying bananas from a store in Toronto, a shop in Kentucky or a stand in Cologne, Germany, the PLU is the same. Same goes for navel oranges (3107), seedless green grapes (4022) and even passion fruit (3038 for the granadilla variety).
  • According to Jane Proctor, vice-president of policy and issue management for the Canadian Produce Marketing Association, “it’s a global system.  In the U.S., in Canada, in Mexico, in the U.K., in New Zealand, in Australia, in Norway, in Sweden — in these countries, they’re used all the way through the supply chain. And any other country that is shipping to those countries is also using them.”
  • How are codes assigned when a new variety of fruit or vegetable is created that a grower or manufacturer thinks should have its own number, they can apply for a PLU (applications cost $1,000 for IFPS members; $2,000 for non-members.  An IFPS committee meets electronically, four times a year, to decide which applications should be accepted and which shouldn’t.
  • There are now some 1,400 codes in use.  The main requirement is that the product has to be sold by at least three retailers with 25 locations or more. Letters of support from the retailers are also asked for. With the use of bar codes, scanners, and tracking data systems, grocers are able to extract detailed buying behaviors using the UPC Bar codes.
  • The main purpose of the stickers is to allow a cashier to read the code easily through a clear plastic bag, so there are some design requirements.  For stickers with only a number, the type size has to be at least 14 points, and for newer PLUs, it has to include a barcode, which should be at least 10- or 12-point font. (there is no MAX size). It should also have as much contrast as possible, with black lettering on a white background considered ideal.
  • Manufacturers are free to come up with their own designs, making some stickers a collector’s item of sorts. Around the world, fruit stickers have become a collector’s item, replete with jazzy typography, vibrant illustrations, and playful branding that goes back over a century.
  • As one of the world’s largest exporters of fruit, Spain has them in droves. Since the country started exporting oranges and other citrus fruit at the turn of the 20th century, Spain has developed a robust infrastructure producing fruit stickers, paper wrappers, and custom-printed fruit crates.
  • These little “gems” of graphic design are now the subject of a new exhibition in Madrid. Featuring more than 300 Spanish brands, the aptly named Frutas de Diseño (Design Fruits) shines a light on the colorful history of fruit branding in Spain from the 1950s onward—and the wild variety of graphics that have been used to market fruits there and abroad.
  • The exhibition is located in CentroCentro, a striking cultural venue that was once Madrid’s main post office building. It includes 250 iterations of paper wrappers, a popular way of packaging fruit in Spain, more than 100 fruit crates stacked like totems, and a board with 360 real, tiny stickers in all kinds of shapes, from circles to ovals to leaves. Most of them depict a simple wordmark, with a few exceptions like an abstract version of the sun, or an illustrated lemon cut in half. Names like “Infinita” or “La Soculente” (The Succulent) helped businesses, often small family-run affairs, stand out from the crowd.
  • Over the past few years, some companies have been experimenting with lasers, etching numbers, and brand names on the skin on the actual fruit. While in its early days, the practice might gain steam in countries like France, which banned disposable plastic packaging and produce stickers across 30 fruits and vegetables.
  • Can you eat the stickers?  The short answer is yes, but you probably won’t want to.  There is not harm, but the stickers do not break down in the body … just pass through.
  • So next time you find yourself peeling a sticker from your orange, take a closer look before you chuck it in the trash, because you may be holding one of the tiniest forms of branding ever created.



Me, too.

As you may know the Kowalski Heat Treating logo finds its way
into the visuals of my Friday posts.
I.  Love.  My.  Logo.
One week there could be three logos.
The next week there could be 15 logos.
And sometimes the logo is very small or just a partial logo showing.
But there are always logos in some of the pictures.
So, I challenge you, my beloved readers, to count them and send me a
quick email with the total number of logos in the Friday post.
On the following Tuesday I’ll pick a winner from the correct answers
and send that lucky person some great KHT swag.
So, start counting and good luck!  
Oh, and the logos at the very top header don’t count.
Got it? Good.  :-))))
Have fun!!


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