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An Introduction to UPCs and GS1

Updated: May 15

As companies grow, being listed on large retail chain store shelves and ecommerce platforms is the goal for many. The retailer industry in Canada and beyond share the same system of scanning product bar codes at the till and tracking UPCs. When setting up a new product, a retailer links the barcode and UPC to their own internal product codes, pricing and inventory control systems.

How is the barcode generated?

First a brand owner needs to purchase a Universal Product Code (UPC) for each of their products, this number is then used to create the bar code pattern.

This example is of a barcode and the corresponding UPC numbers:

How does a brand owner get a UPC?

This is where the company GS1 Canada comes in. There are different places to purchase a UPC however, GS1 is the globally recognized controller of UPCs. If you purchase a UPC from a different source make sure they are an approved GS1 UPC providor, or you could find out down the road that you have a UPC that is already assigned to a different product.

GS1 and many retailers use the term GTIN (Global Trade Item Number) for the product code.

The GTIN can be different lengths but has a common pattern. The first digits belong to the company/brand owner IF they purchase their own prefix (this is not required for small companies who only need a few UPCs.) The next digits are specific to the item.

The final digit is a "check digit" for the purposes of quality control.

Image source: GS1 Canada

How does the UPC become a barcode?

GS1 Canada has an online barcode generator tool that will create a barcode image once you have purcahsed your UPC/GTIN. This image is then incorporated into your artwork

Does the barcode need to look a certain way?

Yes, GS1 Canada has published guidance on their website to help you understand the format requirements of the barcode and UPC.

What else does GS1 do?

Most retailers will ask the brand owner to set up their product in the GS1 database called ECCNET. This database is used so that retailers can reference product images, ingredient, nutrition and other types of product data.

How do I learn about more about Getting UPCs and GS1 Canada?

GS1 Canada has an informative website with a helpful FAQ section.

If you are ready to subscribe for your first UPC codes, you may qualify for their new online short course: Trade Readiness Certification Program.

For more info please reach out to your Venturepark Labs contacts.

Written By: Venturepark Labs Team


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