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How To Read A UPC Barcode

by Barry Barcode

Hello, are you mystified by the UPC on your sales product? Has a customer ever asked you, ‘hey do you know why these numbers are here,’ and you’ve had to make an educated guess, or ask someone else? Fear not, my grocery store or retail friend, I’m the author of 2014 Guide to Grocery Store Barcoding and I’m here to clear up all the confusion and make you UPC literate!

First, let’s talk about what a UPC is. These unique codes are used in grocery and retail to give each product for sale a unique code. The letters stand for “Universal Product Code”. It’s a really nifty type of technology. A UPC barcode streamlines this process even more. No longer does the cashier have to memorize many numbers or look them up. A quick scan from his or her barcode scanner will pull up all of the information about the product for checkout. The cashier simply types in the code on the sales product, and the price is registered with it, as well as information about what the product is.

The very first number digit in a UPC is called a ‘leading number,’ and it sorts the UPC into a broad category. The categories are standard code, reserved, random weight item, pharmaceuticals, in-store marketing, coupons, and reserved.

The second six digits are a manufacturing identification number. This is where the code becomes universal. There is a council that proceeds over all the manufacturers’ UPCs. They are called the Uniform Code Council or UCC for short. Here’s how the process unfolds:

  1.  A company makes a new product
  2.  They apply for a UPC at UCC
  3.  They pay a fee every year to keep their manufacturer identification number
  4. They are given license to attribute the code to their product.


So, once the manufacturer has their 6 digit identification number, it is then up to them to fill in the last bit of info for their products UPC. The second set of 6 digits is the product’s code, decided within the company. They hire a person to coordinate all of their products. Within the manufacturing company is a UPC coordinator, who assigns the second 6 numbers. To illustrate this concept, consider a company that sells barcode scanners. The Manufacturer identification code will be the same on every barcode scanner, and then each individual model will have a unique product code. Cool, huh?

The last digit is called the check digit. This little guy is a secret code put together from the rest of the numbers as an extra padding to make sure that the product will scan correctly. We’ll use the barcode in this blog as the product code for this example, making the digits 12345612345

  1. Add together the odd digits, and then multiply the total by 3. 1+3+5+1+3+5=18 (18*3=54)
  2. Add together the even digit numbers. 2+4+6+2+4 (18)
  3. Take the totals from step 1 & 2 and add them together.  (18+54=72)
  4. Lastly, take that solution, and find the smallest number that you can add to it to make a number that is divisible by the number 10. (72+8=80)
  5. The check digit is therefor 8, which you can see as the last digit in the barcode.

Whenever a product is scanned, the computer does this calculation and if it comes up with a different number it’s a sign that something is wrong. Sometimes the solution is to type in the UPC by hand, if the problem is that the barcode is compromised somehow. But it could be other things as well. Sometimes it’s as simple as merely scanning the item again.

There is a lot more to know about barcode scanning if you’re in grocery or retail, and we’ve written an eBook with you guys in mind! For more tips on how to keep your barcode scanner scanning away at your UPCs download or book, for free of course, right here: 2014 Guide to Grocery Store Barcoding. If you want more barcodes for your grocery store, call MIDCOM at (800) 643-2664 and you can always chat us up on Facebook, Twitter,Google+ and LinkedIn!


2014 Guide to Grocery Store Barcoding




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