How Do Product Codes Work?

January 16th, 2013

Do you find product coding to be confusing?

Please enjoy another post by SafeSourcing Account Manager Michael Figueroa

Here’s a quick little guide to get you started!

The first thing you need to know, is that in 1977 an organization was started called GS1 who’s purpose was to standardize data formats to facilitate trade throughout global supply chains. The GS1 standard is the most widely used in the world.

One of the standards GS1 developed is called “Global Trade Item Number” or GTIN. These numbers are meant to serve as globally recognized, unique identifiers to represent information about a particular product. Within this GTIN standard, there are also multiple sub-formats, some of which are GTIN-14, GTIN-13, GTIN-12 , and GTIN-8 and so forth, the suffix eluding to the number of digits the code uses. These GTIN formats can be further sub-categorized into some other widely accepted formats, though for simplicities sake we can just think of them as different languages whose use is grouped by regions or organizations that have found that particular language to be the most fitting for their business needs.

-Universal Product Codes (UPC) are the most widely used barcoding standard in North America. The most common sub-formats are UPC-A, and UPC-E, though there are others.

-European Article Numbers  (EAN) are used most commonly in Europe, and were developed as a superset to the UPC format. Of the UPC  formats however, the greatest number of digits is 12, whereas some EAN formats can have up to 17. Due to the ever increasing number of unique global products it is thought that the technical constraints of the UPC format will likely soon become obsolete and force users to move to the EAN format.

There can be different meanings behind the different prefixes and suffixes of these codes to designate a manufacturer, company, or item. However, for the casual user the important thing to know is that when you are referred to a GTIN code it can refer to any one of a number of formats, and if it is followed by a prefix of zeros it is likely a sub-group format.

(i.e.  a UPC  012345678905 is the same as GTIN  00012345678905)

When trying to find specific product information, a GTIN number is essential to making correct comparisons. Private Label contracting for instance, when informing your formulation specifications, will need to have more narrow definitions than just a National Brand Equivalent’s name. This is one area that SafeSourcing excels in, is making sure your procurement projects are making correct comparisons by managing the data within the project correctly.

Please contact a SafeSourcing Customer Services account manager for further information

We look forward to and appreciate your comments.


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