20 of world’s biggest companies collaborate to modernize bar code

Bar code turns 50 but lacks efficiency for today’s supply chain

It’s hard to believe the bar code is turning 50. Anyone who was a cashier in the ’80s knows how life-changing it was to scan the product instead of typing in the product category and price. Designed to make checkouts faster, the bar code also became a supply chain technology to track products. But has the bar code topped out in terms of efficiency in providing supply chain data?

After five decades, the neutral organization that oversees bar code usage, GS1 US, is working with regulators and brand leaders like Pepsico and Procter & Gamble to enhance product information within scalable technology. Amazon and Walmart, which are on the organization’s board, and Target, which is on its executive leadership committee, are also weighing in on how to transition from the bar code to the QR code.

“The bar code is a huge part of our everyday life,” said Carrie Wilkie, SVP of standards and technology at GS1 US. “Bar codes are scanned ten billion times a day! But bar codes are one-dimensional, meaning it can only provide information moving from Point A to Point B. There are other types of bar codes being used like QR and DataMatrix codes which can provide access to additional information like product batch numbers, and granular information like serial numbers of medical devices so doctors and patients know exactly which product is being used, where it was manufactured, and when.”

Wilkie said in addition to medical devices, QR codes could provide information on product recalls.

“There is a lot of food waste involved in food recalls because consumers are unsure if the product they have is recalled or not. If there was a QR code on the product, the QR code could take the consumer to the company’s website where they can find detailed information on the recall and if the product they have scanned is part of it.”

The reason why the QR code can hold more information, Wilkie explained, is that it is two-dimensional.

Wilkie said the extra information these “2D bar codes” can hold enhances supply chain traceability and logistics and offers consumers more access to product information which at the end of the day for businesses increases transparency and engagement. In a recent GS1 US-led survey on the bar code, 77% of consumers say product information is important when making a purchase.

The most frequently reported kinds of product information consumers would like more information on are nutrition, 53%; materials and ingredients, 37%; safety information, 36%; country of origin, 32%; allergens, 27%; and recall alerts, 20%.

“Up-leveling to 2D bar codes ensures greater transparency and risk reduction,” said Wilkie.

The program designed to help extend that additional information to the point of sale is called Sunrise 2027. It is being led by GS1 and allows a QR code to be used the same way a bar code is used today.

“We just need to educate consumers and retailers as we make this shift that the 2D code will beep at point of sale,” said Wilkie. “This is a call to action. Enhancing that data with 2D bar code usage is a win for the consumer and brand.”

Twenty of the world’s biggest companies have signed a global joint statement calling for the adoption of next-generation bar codes. Mondelez, J.M. Smucker and P&T are among those companies.

Alfredo Colas, senior vice president of information technology for Procter & Gamble, said it is important to leverage cutting-edge technology to meet the demands of today’s consumers as well as safeguard the integrity of their products.

“By transitioning to a 2D bar code with GS1 Standards, we are empowering consumers with greater access to the information they need to inform their purchase decisions and improving traceability through the supply chain,” said Colas. “This commitment to innovation underscores our dedication to deliver a superior experience to consumers and value to all stakeholders.”

By FreightWaves

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