UPC code and GS1

UPC Codes and GS1 – everything you need to know

To succeed as a food or drinks business, it is essential to have a solid understanding of UPC codes and GS1. This ensures the smooth operation of your supply chain and the efficient sale of your products.

This article will provide an overview of UPC codes, explain the role of GS1, and discuss the importance of these systems for businesses, particularly those in the food industry.

What are UPC Codes?

Universal Product Codes (UPC) are a type of barcode that are widely used across the globe for tracking products in stores, managing inventory, and facilitating the checkout process. UPC codes consist of a 12-digit number that is unique to each product, and a corresponding barcode that can be scanned by barcode readers at the point of sale.

The 12-digit UPC code is divided into three main components:

  1. Manufacturer Identifier (MI) – The first six digits of the UPC code represent the manufacturer or brand owner’s unique identification number, assigned by GS1.
  2. Product Identifier (PI) – The next five digits are assigned by the manufacturer to identify the specific product within their range.
  3. Check Digit – The final digit is a check digit, calculated using a specific algorithm to ensure the accuracy of the scanned code.

Why do food brands need a UPC code?

UPC codes, and specifically UPC codes administered by GS1, are a requirement when you’re working with brokers and retailers. These require products to be labelled with standardized barcodes to ensure compatibility with their inventory management systems and point-of-sale equipment. UPC codes are required for each SKU, and are displayed on individual unit packaging, multi-packs and wholesale packs.

Do not purchase UPC codes from any other source, as these will not be accepted by the industry.

By adopting GS1-administered UPC codes, your business can seamlessly integrate its products into the inventory systems of its retail and distribution partners, thereby streamlining its supply chain processes, reducing the potential for errors, and improving overall efficiency.

Compliance with GS1 standards also signals to retailers and distributors that you’re committed to maintaining high levels of data accuracy, traceability, and professionalism, increasing the likelihood of establishing successful and long-lasting partnerships.

UPC code being scanned at a supermarket checkout

The Role of GS1

GS1 is a not-for-profit, international organization that develops and maintains global standards for business communication, including barcodes, such as UPC codes. The main goal of GS1 is to improve the efficiency, safety, and visibility of supply chains across multiple sectors, including retail, healthcare, and foodservice.

GS1 provides several essential services to businesses, including:

  1. Issuing unique identification numbers – GS1 assigns unique identification numbers (Global Trade Item Numbers, or GTINs) to manufacturers and brand owners, which form the basis for UPC codes and other types of barcodes.
  2. Maintaining global standards – GS1 develops and maintains standards for various types of barcodes and data carriers, ensuring that they can be used consistently and accurately across different industries and countries.
  3. Providing education and support – GS1 offers educational resources, training, and support to help businesses understand and implement its standards effectively.

The Importance of UPC Codes and GS1 for Food Businesses

UPC codes and GS1 play a critical role in the food industry, helping businesses to manage their supply chain efficiently and ensuring that products are accurately tracked and priced at the point of sale. Here are some of the key benefits of using UPC codes and adhering to GS1 standards for food businesses:

  1. Efficient inventory management – UPC codes enable food businesses to keep accurate records of their inventory levels and facilitate the automated reordering of products when stock levels fall below a certain threshold.
  2. Streamlined checkout process – By using UPC codes, retailers can quickly and accurately scan products at the point of sale, reducing the likelihood of errors and speeding up the checkout process for customers.
  3. Improved product traceability – UPC codes and GS1 standards make it easier to trace products throughout the supply chain, from the manufacturer to the end consumer. This is particularly important in the food industry, where traceability can help to ensure food safety and quality, and facilitate product recalls when necessary.
  4. Enhanced data accuracy – Adhering to GS1 standards and using UPC codes can help to reduce the risk of data entry errors, ensuring that product information is accurate and up-to-date.


Understanding UPC codes and the role of GS1 is crucial for businesses, particularly those in the food industry, to ensure the efficient management of their supply chain, accurate product tracking, and a streamlined checkout process. By using UPC codes and adhering to GS1 standards, food businesses can benefit from improved inventory management, increased traceability, and enhanced data accuracy, ultimately leading to better customer experiences and increased profitability.

To fully leverage the benefits of UPC codes and GS1, it is essential for businesses to:

  • Obtain a unique identification number (GTIN) from GS1 for their products.
  • Ensure that their UPC codes are correctly formatted and include all necessary components, including the manufacturer identifier, product identifier, and check digit.
  • Train staff members on the proper use of UPC codes and barcode scanning equipment to minimize errors and maximize efficiency.
  • Stay up-to-date with any changes to GS1 standards and implement them as necessary.

By embracing the use of UPC codes and GS1 standards, food businesses can position themselves for success in today’s competitive marketplace and pave the way for a more efficient, accurate, and customer-centric operation.

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Andreas Duess, food marketing expert
Andreas Duess, Food Marketing Expert

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