Universal Product Codes or UPCs are barcodes used in the U.S. and Canada for packaged produce which is sold by fixed weight, count, or volume (e.g. 3-lb. bag of apples, 3 count tomatoes, 1/2 pint of blueberries). A UPC barcode is encoded with a 12-digit identification number or GTIN which includes the digits to the extreme left and right under the barcode. UPC barcodes are scanned at the front end in order to obtain the price of the item. A UPC is different than a PLU code as the PLU is used on fresh loose or bulk produce items and will typically appear on a small sticker that is applied to the individual piece of fresh produce.
There are two types of UPCs used in the fresh produce industry: the generic UPC and company-specific UPC. Both are encoded with the 12-digit GTIN. The generic UPC begins with a GS1-assigned generic prefix '033383' and identifies only the item. The company-specific UPC begins with a unique GS1-assigned UPC company-specific prefix which identifies both the item and the brand owner or supplier of the item. Generic UPCs are assigned to produce items sold in unprocessed form; i.e., they are not assigned to processed, mixed, peeled or cut produce.
Generic Universal Product Code (UPC)
The Generic UPC which is encoded with a 12-digit GTIN called GTIN-12 is made up of three parts: the generic GS1 UPC Company Prefix ('033383'), Item Reference Number and Check Digit.
- The GS1 UPC Company Prefix, '033383', identifies that the product is generic; i.e., no specific brand owner tied to the product. The prefix '033383' is licensed by PMA from GS1 US to be used to assign generic UPCs.
- The Item Reference Number identifies the item by commodity, variety, growing region, grade, product size and package size/type. It is 5 digits in length for a generic UPC and is assigned by PMA.
- The Check Digit is always the last digit of a GTIN. The check digit is calculated from all the other numbers in the barcode and ensures the integrity of your GTIN. It is calculated using the GS1 Check Digit Calculator.
This type of barcode is used by companies that do not have their own unique company prefix assigned by GS1.
A Note on the Use of Generic UPCs
On November 13, 2019, CPMA and PMA issued a joint press release announcing that generic UPCs would no longer be issued beginning January 1, 2020. This decision was aligned with an initiative by many retailers who, in an effort to increase the safety and traceability of fresh produce, will not accept generic UPCs. This in no way impacts generic UPCs already issued and in use. (Please find the official CPMA/PMA press release regarding the sunsetting of the generic UPC.)
The Romaine Task Force has also recommended that companies transition away from the use of generic UPCs and move to company specific UPCs to assist with trace back investigations.
To obtain a GS1 Company Prefix please visit the GS1 US website.
While the transition is not mandatory, continued use of the generic UPC may limit suppliers’ sales opportunities with retailers who require company-specific UPCs—especially as more and more retailers begin to adopt this practice.
It is recommended that all growers/packers transition away from using generic UPC-12s (UPC-12s beginning with 033383), given the trend of retailers who will not accept them, and begin to transition to the use of company-specific UPCs. It is suggested that, once growers/packers have exhausted their packaging inventory, they begin to transition to the use of the company-specific UPCs. There is no set timeframe for the transition as it would be determined by retailers and whether or not they will accept packaging with generic UPCs.
For an in-depth look at the impact of sunsetting generic UPCs and the benefits of using a company specific UPCs on packaged produce labeling, PMA, CPMA and GS1 US conducted a webinar called “Generic UPC.s and DataBar: Changes Coming in Produce Product Identification”.
Company-Specific Universal Product Code (UPC)
The Company-Specific UPC encodes a 12-digit GTIN (GTIN-12) also has three primary components: a GS1 UPC Company Prefix, Item Reference Number, and Check Digit. The Company-Specific UPC identifies the brand owner of the product; thus providing unique identification for the item. In order to obtain a GS1 UPC Company Prefix, you must purchase it from GS1.
- The GS1 UPC Company Prefix varies in length from 6 to 10 digits and is licensed by the brand owner of the product from GS1.
- The Item Reference Number varies in length from 1 to 5 digits and is also assigned by the brand owner. It identifies the item by commodity, variety, growing region, grade, product size and package size/type. It is suggested not to build any intelligence into the number.
- The Check Digit is always the last digit of a GTIN. The check digit is calculated from all the other numbers in the barcode and ensures the integrity of your GTIN. GS1 has a check digit calculator to assist with this assignment.
The data structure of a company specific UPC is illustrated below.
How to Build a Company-Specific UPC
- Begin with your UPC Company Prefix assigned by GS1 (6 to 10 digits in length).
- Assign your Item Reference Number (1 to 5 digits in length depending on the length of your company prefix). Please note it is suggested not to build any intelligence into this number; simply start with the lowest number and continue in sequence.
- Calculate the check digit.
To locate the existing generic UPCs, a database called UPC Online is available. The database identifies over 12,000 standardized, generic UPC numbers for fresh fruits and vegetables including commodity, variety, growing region, grade, product size and package size/type. The database does not include generic UPCs for processed, cut or mixed produce. UPCs for organic produce are included in the database listed as a variety for the commodity. UPC Online is available as an annual subscription for $100/year for PMA members and $200/year for non-members. It is searchable by the item identification number or GTIN or various attributes including commodity, variety or package size. The annual subscription entitles you to unlimited company access. You must have a PMA user ID and password to access UPC Online. For this and more information or to order the subscription, please access the e-store.
Generic UPCs beginning with the prefix '033383' are included in the UPC Online database. To find a UPC beginning with a prefix other than '033383', you must contact GS1 US or GS1 Canada.
Label manufacturers are available to assist with printing of your UPCs.
Retailer-Assigned Universal Product Codes
There are specific number ranges in the database that are designated 'For Retailer/System Assignment'. These ranges are meant for use as Retailer-Assigned codes. Retailer-Assigned Codes allow retailers to designate their own numbers for items that do not have standard UPC numbers assigned. After a supplier makes specific arrangements with all retailers that will receive the item, a retailer assigned number may be used. Shippers must not use these numbers without the prior agreement of all retailer customers intending to receive this item.
Transitioning from Generic to Company-Specific UPCs
In order to capture brand owner and product identification among addressing a number of other business processes across the supply chain, the produce industry in the United States and Canada is gradually making the transition away from the use of generic UPCs to the use of brand owner or company specific UPCs.
The generic UPC, which begins with the prefix '033383' for fresh produce packaged goods, only identifies the item including the commodity, variety and pack size. Generic UPCs for fresh produce are administered by PMA and do not identify the supplier of the product. The list of generic produce item numbers and descriptions is maintained by PMA in UPC Online.
A brand owner or company-specific UPC has a GS1 UPC company specific prefix which identifies the supplier of the packaged item. The list of item numbers and descriptions are maintained by the company or brand owner.
The use of standard GTINs allows for the globally unique identification of fresh produce by capturing the brand owner and product identification while also providing a number of benefits.
Key Benefits of Brand Owner Identification
- Improved category management
- Increased inventory accuracy
- Streamlined business processes
- Increased efficiencies
When packaged produce is identified with brand owner or company-specific UPCs, point-of-sale systems scan and process multiple brand owner UPCs for the same commodity instead of a single generic UPC for that commodity. This allows retailers to differentiate between different brands of product in the same category. Retailers are thus able to improve their category management and inventory accuracy by determining sell-through and shrink data by brand.
Making the Transition to Unique Identification
1. Obtain a GS1 UPC Company Prefix
a. Contact GS1
b. UPC Company Prefixes can be 6 to 10 digits long depending on your company's capacity
2. Create your 12-digit company specific UPC
a. Begin the number with your GS1 UPC company prefix
b. Add an item reference number which will be 1 to 5 digits long depending on the length of your company prefix
c. Calculate the check digit to complete the number
Below is an example of the GS1 Company Prefix Certificate you will receive from GS1 when you purchase your GS1 Company Prefix. It lists the GS1 Company Prefix and the UPC Company Prefix. When transitioning from generic UPCs to brand-owner UPCs, you will use the UPC Company Prefix.
In order to assist with the transition of generic UPCs, a simple tool, UPC Link, was created to allow for data synchronization of generic UPCs and company-specific or brand-owner UPCs. UPC Link is designated for sellers and retail buyers of packaged produce items as they transition from using generic UPCs (those beginning with the prefix '033383') to brand-owner or company-specific UPCs. UPC Link will allow sellers of produce to communicate their GTINs encoded in the UPC to their buyers, and will allow buyers to download the data into their point-of-sale systems to scan the UPC on packaged items. Transferring the data is much more efficient since the upload of data is only done once. The database acts as a single central repository for all data to be exchanged. This tool is NOT designed for anything other than packaged produce; i.e. it is not used for individual or case. Another tool, DataBar Online, can be used for transitioning to the GS1 DataBar on loose or bulk produce. The product has a one-time access fee of $300 for PMA members and $1,100 for non-members.
Benefits of UPC Link
- A single source to communicate data between trading partners in one consistent file format
- Suppliers see a significant reduction in number of transactions required to communicate data needed for transition, saving time and creating efficiencies
- An automatic download feature to ensure the exchange of the most accurate and complete list of data
- Making the transition and utilizing the tool allows for improved category management, increased inventory accuracy and enhanced traceability
- Reduction of 'no scans' or 'NOFs'
- Can remedy emergency buy situations
Suppliers or brand owners are those responsible for registering for the product through the easy three-step process below. Retailers simply need to have the required log on information to access the tool.
Easy Three-Step Process to Accessing UPC Link
How to Build Your Data File
Obtain Required Log-on Information
To register and access UPC Link, you must have your own GS1 UPC Company Prefix and PMA company and individual identification numbers (log on credentials). If you need your PMA identification numbers, please contact Member Services via email or phone at 1-302-738-7100. If you don't know your GS1 UPC prefix, please contact GS1. The product has a one-time access fee of $300 for PMA members and $1,100 for non-PMA member. The order must be placed through the online registration process prior to gaining access to the UPC Link.
- Complete Registration
To register to use UPC Link, suppliers (members and non-members) must complete the registration process. If you need your PMA company ID and individual ID information, please contact Member Services via email or phone at 302-738-7100. Access to the product is not granted until the registration process is completed and the product purchase is confirmed. Please allow 2 - 3 days for the registration to be processed. You will receive a confirmation e-mail notifying you of your access. At that time, you will be able to upload your data. The individual registrant will be the only one who will have access to UPC Link.
- Access Resources
Now is the best time to familiarize yourself with the product and learn how to create your file to upload, update and download your information. There is a tutorial available to help guide you through these basic steps providing instruction on gaining access to the tool, creating the data file(s) to upload, uploading, revising and downloading the data.
As a supplier or brand owner of the items, you will need to build a text file using a text editor, such as Notepad, with your company specific UPCs and corresponding generic UPCs. To create this text file, it is best to create a two-column Excel comma-delimited (.csv) file with the first column containing your company specific UPCs and the second column containing the generic UPCs, both separated by columns. This is the data which will be uploaded into UPC Link. It is recommended that you refer to the UPC Link tutorial for further details.
If you own more than one GS1 UPC company prefix, you will need to create and upload a separate data file for each distinct set of GTINs.
Please note that Retailer Assigned Codes cannot be uploaded into UPC Link. Since they are assigned to different types of produce at different retailers, they can inadvertently corrupt a retailer's point-of-sale system. These codes need to be communicated to your retailers in a separate fashion.
It is important to save the original file for future reference because any future uploads will overwrite the data currently stored.
Utilizing the Data
Once the data has been uploaded to UPC Link, suppliers have the option of adding, revising or deleting records through the Update Online feature. The download option can also be used to verify the data uploaded. Retailers can either download the data on a regular basis by directly accessing the tool or choose the automatic download option to program regularly scheduled data transfers.