What is a UPC Code?

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From hamburger meat to high tech digital products, nearly everything you buy has something called a UPC code attached to it. So just what is UPC, and what does it mean? The letters UPC stand for Universal Product Code. The UPC system was developed to quickly and efficiently check customers out at the grocery store, while maintaining a constantly updated database of product inventory. The first UPC was actually called a UGPIC, which stood for Universal Grocery Products Identification Code, and was created in 1970. It wasn’t until four years later in 1974 that an actual UPC was used. The very first item to ever be scanned using a UPC code was a pack of Wrigley’s chewing gum!

Today, UPC codes consist of twelve digits. There are no letters or other characters within a UPC code, only numbers. There is a simple calculation used within these numbers that determines what product and pricing each item belongs to. The formula consists of adding the odd numbers within the digits and multiplying them by three. Then, the even numbered digits are added together and then added to the result of the first part of the formula. Finally, the higher multiple of ten is subtracted from the answer and this gives us the check digit, which is essentially a UPC code’s identifying number. This is also known as the checksum algorithm.

What Products Have UPC Codes?

Certain items do not use UPC codes. Things such as prescription drugs use what is called an NDC code, or National Drug Code number instead. Additionally, items which are sold based upon weight such as candy, meats, and produce use a special UPC code that is assigned by the particular store they are sold in. This way, pricing can be tracked accurately according to what that particular store charges per pound, ounce, etc. All barcodes and UPC codes are comprised of black and white vertical lines. Each of the lines are varied in thickness, from very thin to moderately thick. The thin lines are usually located between the main numbers on the UPC code. Patterns associated with these lines help to determine what type of product the item is.

All merchants who sell any type of items must associate their stock with a UPC or barcode. If you are a merchant who wants to sell things and needs codes, you must get a UCC Company Prefix from the Uniform Code Council. The Council will then assign a unique assigned number for you to use on all UPC codes. They will also provide you with an official certificate to show that you have registered. There is a fee to apply for such a code, and you must apply in order to receive it. Once you’ve gotten the UCC, you are ready to create and produce unique UPC codes for your products. UPC codes allow you to track your inventory, update and change pricing easily, and keep records of sales and progress. The UPC code is ever-evolving and changing into new ways to track the flow of merchandise in our fast-paced marketplace.