Homegrown Organic Farms uses a wrap-around sticker on their organic produce to avoid issues at checkout.
Homegrown Organic Farms uses a wrap-around sticker on their organic produce to avoid issues at checkout.

Getting a proper ring-through at the checkout counter is a concern for many organic suppliers and retailers.

“Those mistakes are considered shrink on the retail end, and it’s been a big issue,” said Scott Mabs, chief executive officer of Homegrown Organic Farms, Porterville, Calif.

However, the amount of error is largely related to the efforts of individual retailers.

“It’s dependant on the retailer, so the numbers are all over the board depending on what they do on their end as far as training,” Mabs said.

Roger Pepperl, marketing director of Stemilt Growers Inc., Wenatchee, Wash., said the issue isn’t limited to organics.

“The reality is that this is a problem, but it isn’t an organic program — it’s a PLU problem,” he said.

Pepperl said fuji apples are just as likely to be rung up as gala apples as an organic apple is to be rung up as conventional.

However, organic errors tend to be more noticeable.

“For every fuji that gets rang up as a gala, a gala gets rang up as a fuji, so when you sell a million galas, it isn’t as noticeable,” he said.

Organic sales are usually smaller.

“Because organics tend to be smaller numbers, it tends to alarm people at a greater rate,” he said.

In his time in the retail business, Pepperl said he had constant training sessions with checkers to make sure they knew they had 25 different kinds of apples on the shelves and that it is important to use the right number.

“You have to get people to not memorize the numbers, because that’s when things get rung up as a gala. Sometimes everything gets rung up as a gala,” he said.

Looking at stickers

Pepperl thinks having larger stickers on fruit isn’t necessarily the solution.

“Putting great big stickers the size of a silver dollar makes fruit unappealing. Consumers don’t want that.

“The products all have stickers already, so I think having training sessions with checkers is so important,” he said.

Having a clear, easy-to-read sticker is important, no matter how large it is.

“It’s important to have a PLU sticker that’s bold enough and strong enough for the cashier to identify the product as being organic,” said Ray Wowryk, director of business development at Nature Fresh Farms Inc., Leamington, Ontario.

Wowryk said Nature Fresh has the capability to use a barcode directly on the sticker, which can be a solution.

Packaging such as bags or wrapped items is also available.

It depends on what retailers choose to do.

“There are all sorts of things we can do. It’s just a matter of customizing the retail unit to the wishes of the retailers,” Wowryk said.

Paul Newman, organic salesman at Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers, Wenatchee, Wash., said some stores have started to use color codes for organic produce.

“Yellow has become kind of a general color ... for individual apples,” he said.

However, Newman said Safeway has started to add an another pink sticker to organic items as an additional way to prevent mistakes at the counter.

Scannable stickers are also gaining popularity.

“It just makes it a lot easier on the checkers. Even smaller grocery stores often go with a scanner,” Newman said.

The consumer side

Not all mistakes come from errors. Sometimes consumers are the culprits.

Karen Caplan, president and chief executive officer of Frieda’s Specialty Produce, Los Alamitos, Calif., said she has heard stories of consumers who remove the organic stickers from bananas to pass them off as their cheaper conventional cousins.

Still, she said she has seen retailers be very diligent on the issue

“That’s why you might see organic product with a label that goes all the way around the product to prevent its removal,” she said.

“I think retailers are becoming pretty savvy. They know if they purchase 10% of their bananas as organic and 99% are going through the front register as conventional, it doesn’t mean the organic product isn’t selling,” Caplan said.