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