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FAQ: Universal Product Code (UPC) | A Slice of Vermont

FAQ: Universal Product Code (UPC)

Universal Product Code, commonly known as UPC, is one of the most commonly used symbols yet easily misunderstood which could lead to costly misuse. There are many different barcode symbologies designed for different industries. The barcode you find on most consumer goods is UPC-A which is 12-digit number uniquely identifying every item at the style/flavor/color/size level. You must use different UPC numbers for pint and quart of your maple syrup or different sizes of the same color t-shirt. 

Where do I buy UPC codes for my products?

Generally speaking, you have two options. The first one is from GS1 and the second from a reseller. GS1 will lease you a block of UPC codes to you for an initial fee and annual renewal. On the other hand, there are hundreds of UPC code resellers. 

The difference between GS1 and other resellers is not only the cost but also how you can use that barcodes. 12-digit UPC codes are not just a set of random numbers. The first 5-6 digits are company identification numbers, followed by the product numbers, and a calculated checked digit as the last number. Some retailers use the company identification numbers (or GS1 prefix) of your UPC to figure out whether you are selling your own products or re-selling products from another company. 

Another major concern is uniqueness. Most marketplaces use UPC as product identifier and you may not be able to list your own product if someone else listed a different product using the same UPC. All resellers claim to be selling unique UPC codes but It's important that you find a reputable one.

Do's and don'ts

  • Assign a unique UPC to each product variant
  • Use the same UPC for the same product made at different factories or for different seasons
  • Use the same UPC for the same product with minor packaging changes or new labels
  • Assign a different UPC if the material content, formula or ingredients are different
  • Use different UPC's for different pre-packed quantities
  • UPC must be scannable; there must be an adequate contrast between the dark bars and the light spaces
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