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Universal Product Code (UPC)

UPC, Universal Product Code
Introduced to the grocery industry in 1973, the Universal Product Code or UPC is a machine-readable symbol printed on or applied as a label to consumer packaging for scanning at the retail point of sale to facilitate check-out and enable associated IT processes.

UPC may also be referred to as a “barcode”.

UPCs may include the brand name, item, size, and color. UPCs are also helpful in tracking inventory within a store or warehouse.

To obtain a UPC for use on a product, a company has to first apply to become part of the system. GS1, the Global Standards Organization, formerly known as the Uniform Code Council, manages the assigning of UPCs within the US.

When applying for a UPC, GS1 assigns a 6-digit manufacturer identification number, which becomes the first six digits in the UPC on all the company’s products. This number identifies the particular manufacturer of the item.

The next five digits of the UPC is called an item number which is unique to a specific product.

Many consumer products have several variations, based on, for example, size, flavor, or color. Each variety requires its own item number. So a gallon of 2% milk has a different item number than a gallon of 1% milk, or a gallon of fat-free milk.

The last digit in the 12-digit UPC is called the check digit. It is the product of several calculations – adding and multiplying several digits in the code – to confirm to the checkout scanner that the UPC is valid. If the check digit code is incorrect, the UPC won’t scan properly

Related Terms: GS1 Standards, Automatic Identification & Data Collection (AIDC)

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