With Traceability Top of Mind, A Greater Push to Company-Specific UPCs in 2020

Brian German Agri-Business

Beginning in 2020, only company-specific UPCs will be issued which will help enhance food traceability and increase inventory accuracy and category management for retailers. Generic UPCs will no longer be issued for North American produce by the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) or the Canadian Produce Marketing Association (CPMA). The use of Global Trade Item Numbers (GTINs) will begin replacing specific UPCs moving forward.

Company-Specific UPCs

“Basically, it is a number designed or determined by the company prefix owner,” said Jane Proctor, CPMA Vice President of Policy and Issue Management. “It enables that company, therefore, to label their products and know that no matter where it’s shipped in the globe that item will be unique.”

The use of generic UPCs began in 1990, as retailers were looking for an efficient way to sell packaged produce. The move to GTINs will not immediately eliminate the use of UPCs, as the transition is being viewed as a more long-term goal that will adjust with industry participation. “There are still around 12,000 generic [UPCs] in existence; those won’t go away.  We’re just stopping issuing new numbers,” said Ed Treacy, Vice President of Supply Chain and Sustainability at PMA.

The thought process behind the implementation of specific GTINs was to allow retailers to improve category management with more detailed information on packaged produce. Replacing generic identifiers with an individual, company-specific classification will allow retailers to differentiate between items in the same category and determine which items are more popular with consumers. 

Assigning brand-specific identification to produce will also assist in food safety efforts when a recall is issued for potentially contaminated products. The origin of an outbreak of food born illnesses can be determined at a quicker and more precise fashion than current methods of identification. “The company-specific UPCs, or GTIN-12, will allow investigators and regulators or people doing traceback investigations to directionally link what was sold out of the store, to what came into the store,” Treacy noted.

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Brian German

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Ag News Director, AgNet West