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Cracking the code

Posted on: 23 Jun 2022

Maria Svejdar, Head of Marketing, Communications and CX, GS1 Ireland, examines the evolution of the barcode and heralds the future of digital product passports.


WHEN launching a new product, the barcode is probably not the first thing a producer or brand owner thinks of. Much of the early stages of product development focus on the product’s key features, the recipe, how it will look, taste or be packaged. However, the understated design of the humble barcode belies the significant logistical importance of the Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) encoded in that barcode symbol.


The GTIN operates as a type of unique licence plate for a product, enabling it to pass through the supply chain, through the checkout of a store or online marketplace, and into the end-consumer’s hands. The GTIN (or barcode number), can also be connected to a wide range of online digital product information, opening up a world of connection and engagement opportunities between brand owners and their customers.


The rise of the ‘intelligent’ barcode Barcodes continue to evolve today, from the standard EAN / UPC codes we have been familiar with in the retail supply chain for the last 40 years, to the new, more “intelligent” symbols such as Data Matrix and QR codes that are now being printed on products around the world. Woolworths Australia are an early adopter of GS1 Data Matrix barcodes across their meat, fruit and fresh foods ranges, for example. These new barcodes enable the sharing of much more detailed product information, both within the barcode or in online, decentralised repositories.


Globally, GS1 is working with industry to establish a range of new services and data registries, such as Verified by GS1, which will make key product information available for checking and validation. Global marketplaces such as Amazon are already using the service to check and validate the barcode information for products listed on their platform. The GS1 Digital Link service acts as a form of “digital signposting”, helping to connect a product’s barcode, when scanned, to other sources of data and information. This could be sustainability credentials, recipes, ingredients, allergen or traceability information, to mention just a couple of examples.


Traditional barcodes include simply the product ID number or GTIN. The new Data Matrix barcodes, for example, can also include traceability information, such as batch or lot number or expiry dates, greatly helping retailers to manage stock control and product rotation. The new codes and services will play a key role in the coming years as industry begins preparations for new regulations such as the EU Digital Product Passport.


The future EU Digital Product Passport


THE Sustainable Product Regulation proposal was adopted on March 20, 2022, by the European Commission and is released under the framework of the EU Green Deal. With the exception of food, feed, and medicinal products, it applies to physical goods, including components and intermediates products, that are placed on the EU market or put into service. Additionally, the regulation prohibits the destruction of unsold consumer products, and sets mandatory green public procurement criteria. The overall aim of the proposal is to reduce the life cycle environmental impact of products through efficient digital solutions. The regulation states that the product passport means a set of data specific to a product and that is accessible via electronic means through a data carrier.


Under the new regulation, the product passport shall: • ensure that actors along the value chain, including consumers, economic operators, and competent national authorities, can access product information relevant to them; • improve traceability of products along the value chain; • facilitate the verification of product compliance by competent national authorities; • include the necessary data attributes to enable the tracking of all substances of concern throughout the lifecycle of the products covered. GS1 is working with industry to begin preparations for compliance with this new regulation. For further information please visit www.gs1ie.org.