Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery was recently able to talk to Carrie Wilkie, senior vice president, standards & technology, GS1 US, about the transition away from UPC barcodes and some challenges and opportunities related to it.


Liz Parker: What are some opportunities for brands and retailers as they transition away from the UPC barcodes that have been prevalent on product packaging for the last 50 years?

Carrie Wilkie: At the heart of the transition is the connected, curious, and informed consumer. Brands have recognized that consumers are looking to them for more in-depth information on their products. Digital access to dynamic, current information is imperative for the consumer—two dimensional (2D) barcodes are the gateway to delivering the next level of information, as the traditional one-dimensional UPC simply can’t offer that robust information that shoppers seek. This next level of digital access to content is key to remaining competitive, while delivering the experience consumers are craving. On the physical packaging side, real estate is limited. Brands will look to incorporate more of that rich information in these sophisticated data carriers as an initial step, reducing the complexity of multiple labels or codes on a single product. For a period of time, expect to see co-labeled UPC and 2D barcodes until brands fully transition.

Kelly Schlafman, director of intelligent packaging, P&G says “2D barcodes on products will be an important new gateway to digital experiences. We are living in the age of the informed consumer—the explosion of digital access to content is a key element to remain competitive.” An interview with Kelly Schlafman of P&G (US) via GS1 Netherlands offers more details.

Retailers can reap additional supply chain benefits, including improved inventory management, recall readiness, sustainability, product authentication and brand trust. That single 2D barcode conveys limitless information in a machine-readable format and while the transition is a multi-step process, GS1 US is continuing to collaborate with industry to align on capabilities for success.


LP: What are some challenges in this arena?

CW: At a minimum, retailer point-of-sale (POS) systems must be capable of reading 2D barcodes. Ideally, hardware and software will be updated to handle and store additional data. To unlock the aforementioned supply chain benefits, they must be able to store and interpret additional data elements that will be associated with products, such as batch/lot number and serial number. For brands, barcode printers that can print dynamic data at high speeds may be needed to handle advanced data carriers and the attribute data encoded within. 


LP: How can the Barcode Capabilities Test Kit help with the transition?

CW: The Test Kits will help retailers assess readiness. GS1 US recently conducted a Test Kit pilot with three national retailers and their solution providers. The results showed that POS systems must be transformed to process 2D barcodes, interpret new data and maintain efficient checkout. Although retailers in the test group had image scanners installed, testing revealed numerous readiness challenges in successfully scanning, processing, and storing data. This indicates that software infrastructure across all POS formats needs to evolve.

According to Marcia Mendez, senior program manager, Walmart: "Ultimately, suppliers will likely drive this evolution as they increasingly label their products with 2D barcodes; however, retailers will need to ensure that not only can they scan 2D barcodes, but also read and ingest the data, which we've learned are two very different capabilities during the pilot project."