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Jane Proctor, CPMA:

“A move towards standard labelling”

Labels contain important information about the products, and a distinction is made between labels on packaging and labels on the product. Jane Proctor, of the Canadian Produce Marketing Association, explains about the importance of standardisation in labelling.

"Fruit and vegetables are traded in an international market, so it is especially important to work on a standard label," begins Jane. "Without a standard, every country and every market develops its own label. Standardisation makes the market more efficient. "

Many individual products have a PLU-code. This code is a worldwide standard that provides information about the product. Currently the code consists of four digits between 3000-4999 although a recent decision by the Board of the International Federation for Produce Standards (IFPS) has expanded the number capacity and in the future 5 digit numbers beginning with 8 will be used by the market. The number indicates the type of product, including, in many cases, the variety. If a product has been grown organically, the digit “9” is added to the front of the existing product/variety PLU number.

"Basically there are two possibilities at this level: PLU or no label on the product. Most countries use the PLU for target markets where the PLU is used at retail (e.g. UK, US, Canada, NZ, Australia, Norway, and soon Mexico). This does not mean that the PLU system is used by retail in every country but we see that more and more countries have plans to implement the IFPS PLUs and expect implementation in many South American countries in the future. Of course, many countries also choose to weigh and label produce in-store using barcodes but the IFPS PLU system allows for marking during the packing process.”

PLU offers no information on the stages the product goes through between grower and retailer, nor does it provide company identification. PLU is a generic number; the number is a standard for the product’s identification only. "For traceability, PLU gives only this limited information. The number tells us what the product is but no additional information such as the specific lot of the item in question. In order to have traceability, at a minimum you must have knowledge of the brand owner and the lot number.”

"Traceability is all about gathering information throughout the supply chain," explains Jane. “The kind of information you need to capture and store when bulk/loose produce is in question and it can only be captured at the case level where labelling allows for the information to be encoded in standard GS1 barcodes designed for that purpose.” This means that, as an industry, in countries where PLUs are used for produce, traceability ends when a case of produce is emptied and placed on the store shelves. The new barcode symbology, GS1 DataBar, allows for a barcode on loose produce but the symbology used for loose produce still only allows for identification of the brand owner and the item so even in that environment although you do get the additional information of the company who is responsible for the product, there is still no capacity to capture lot numbers. It should be noted that there is an increasing implementation of GS1 DataBar but in the bulk/loose produce environment the IFPS PLU is still used as the human readable information.

Take part along with Jane Proctor and others in a discussion about developments in labelling during the EU Forum. Register here for the Forum, to be held on 3 and 4 December in Rotterdam:

Freshplaza is mediapartner of the event