Do I Need a UPC Code Label for my New Food Product?

By: Beth Vessels

It’s on nearly every product we buy through a retailer: the black and white striped rectangle with a bunch of numbers under it – a UPC code. You see it every day, but do you know what it is? And if you are a start-up food company, do you need to have one on your labels?

Probably, but read on.

If you plan on selling prepackaged items in a retail environment, then you need to have a UPC label for each product that has differentiating attributes (different size, flavors). All retailers (mass merchants, grocery stores, health food stores) require a UPC code, which is the only code that can be scanned at the register.

There are some instances when the food manufacturer is not responsible for providing the UPC. For example: UPC codes for products that are variable weight or bulk food items (meat, poultry, pre-made salads) are usually made by the stores.

UPC codes are one of the most forgotten items that we see new food business overlook prior to taking their products to a retailer. And unfortunately, this could potentially be a costly mistake – as labels might have to be reprinted to include the UPC code.

So what is it? UPC stands for Universal Product Code and it consists of two parts: 12 numbers and a scan-able bar code made up of black and white stripes.

The first six numbers of the twelve are unique to the manufacturer or vendor and should be the same through all of the product line.

The next five numbers are unique to that product’s attributes.

The last number is a check digit – a way to ensure that the right numbers were scanned. How the check number is determined is a mathematical marvel and quite frankly, makes my head explode. According to Wikipedia, it is a process of adding the odd numbered digits, multiplying by 3, and then adding the even numbered digits, calculating the modula and subtracting from 10. I had you until modula, right? Simply put for us common folk…it checks to make sure the scan is right. When you have trouble scanning an item at the register, chances are the check digit is reading that something is wrong and kicks it back.

The scan-able barcode has different widths of black and white stripes assigned to each number on either the right or left side of the middle.

Although UPC codes come in different total numbers, for instance an 8 digit UPC code could be used for a smaller item; the standard 12 digit UPC is the most predominantly used in the United States.

Other Types:

A Master Carton UPC code or GTIN (Global Trade Item Number) maybe needed for your cases that will ship to a retailer’s warehouse. This number is typically your UPC code with 4 digits added that represent your pack quantity or how many items are in your master carton.

An EAN (European Article Number) is a code used when products ship from another country and uses an extra digit to represent their counties code. Products from the US can us their UPC codes, as our country code is 00.

Have you had any problems with UPC codes? Maybe a big retailer was ready to buy your goods and you had to rush to get your UPC labels made – click on the comment button below and share your story.

Or, did you just realize that you need UPC labels? Well, we can help with that…click here for more information.


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