Which Barcode for Sunrise 2027?

First Published: May 14, 2024

A New World of Barcoding for Retail

As we move closer to 2027, when the new GS1 barcode initiative becomes a reality, brands will need to decide how to barcode their products for the future.

As discussed in our previous article, several barcode types will be GS1 compliant for retail use: the existing UPC Codes, the GS1 Datamatrix and the GS1 Digital Link (encoded into a QR Code).

Each of the options brings its own characteristics to the barcode concept, so let’s take a look at each of them.

For the examples, I’m using a product with these attributes:

Global Trade Item Number (GTIN): 00123456789012

Lot Number: AFTE4543T

Sell by Date: January 31st, 2029

UPC Code

One advantage to continuing to use your existing UPC Code is that it is already on your products, meaning you don’t have to take any action.

The data encoded in the UPC code is:

123456789012, the products GTIN (GTIN-12).

The UPC Code Abilities

  • The GTIN data embedded in the barcode identifies a Stock-Keeping Unit (SKU). It is also the lookup key to many other attributes, but that is beyond the scope of this post.
  • Scans at point of sale and compatible with just about every retail system.
  • The UPC barcode is usually pre-printed on the package, so no additional printing is needed when packaging.

GS1 Datamatrix Code

The GS1 Datamatrix code is a two-dimensional (2D) barcode that encodes several product parameters using GS1 Application Identifiers.

The data encoded in this example contains the product’s GTIN (the GTIN-14 version), Sell-by Date and Lot Number:

{FNC1}01001234567890121629013110AFTE4543T

If you choose, you can simply replace your UPC with a GS1 Datamatrix containing just the product GTIN, which would maximize space saving on the package.

The GS1 Datamatrix Code Abilities

Using the GS1 Datmatrix barcode has several advantages over the traditional UPC:

  • While it can encode more data than UPC, the GS1 Datamatix code is physically smaller, taking up less space on your packaging.
  • By including production data, such as expiration or sell-by dates, in the barcode, the cashier or consumer can be warned of out-of-date products when scanning them in the store.
  • Inventory and recall control.
  • The lot number encoded in the barcode can ensure that the purchased item isn’t part of a recalled lot.
  • It is possible to include a serial number in the barcode encoding. This would add an enhanced level of traceability since the barcode can now identify an individual item.

Important Considerations

  • Because 2D barcodes are new for point-of-sale applications, not all retail locations will be able to handle the GS1 Datmatrix and the additional data and may not be for some time. GS1 has been proactively working with POS manufacturers, integrators and retail companies for some time to ensure readiness, but there are sure to be cases where stores can’t scan the codes initially.
  • Unlike the UPC, where the data is static and can be pre-printed, the GS1 Datmatrix code (assume it is encoded with production data such as dates or lot info) would need to be printed at the time of packaging.
    In many cases, the existing date coding systems installed on packaging lines will be unable to print the required high-quality Datamatrix codes, so it will be necessary to source additional printing systems to handle these tasks.
  • Switching to a data-rich barcode, such as GS1 Datamatrix, increases the complexity of data that needs to be sent to barcode printers and the complexity of data that retailers must manage.

For brands wishing to unlock the full potential of the Sunrise 2027 initiative, adopting the Digital Link format allows a single barcode to contain everything needed for point-of-sale, control and customer engagement.

The data encoded in a Digital Link barcode is a URI (Uniform Resource Locator), that points to an item online, as well as containing all the data that can be encoded into a GS1 Datamatrix code.

The data encoded in this GS1 Digital Link QR Code includes the product’s GTIN (the GTIN-14 version), Sell-by Date, Lot Number and a unique serial number:

https://davidtest.com/01/00123456789012/10/AFTE4543T/21/000232?16=290131

The GS1 Digital Link QR Code Abilities

Using the GS1 Digital Link encoding for your barcode brings all the benefits of GS1 Datamatrix, with the addition of the online component.

Rather than me trying to list the advanges of Digital Link, check out this video from the folks at GS1:

QR Codes With GS1 Digital Link

Important Considerations

While GS1 Digital Link certainly has the opportunity to revolutionize how we use barcodes, there are a number of things that need to be taken into account:

  • Adopting GS1 Digital Link isn’t just a case of using a different barcode; it involves many groups in your organization, including package design, marketing, engineering, IT, customer liaison, packaging, etc. It’s a more involved project than using GS1 Datamatrix, but for many brands the advantages will justify the additional work.
  • Your team would need to ensure that the appropriate domains and digital content are in place and kept updated.
  • Your retail customers will likely have their own thoughts on the data they want included in Digital Link barcodes that pass through their systems.
  • As with GS1 Datamatrix, the Digital Link barcodes, with their production-specific data, would need to be printed on the package at, or close to, the time of packaging.

What About Retailers That Can’t Scan The Codes?

As I mentioned, there has been a lot of work done on getting the industry to a position where the new 2D barcodes can be scanned and the data managed.

Most manufacturers of point-of-sale systems already include 2D scanning and data parsing capability in systems they are shipping – most also offer upgrade paths for systems in the field.

Retailers and integrators are also working to ensure their software systems will be able to manage the data and use it to take advantage of the work brands have done to provide this.

In the interim period where this isn’t yet a critical mass of compliant retailers, many brands are looking to add dual barcodes to their products, assuming their is room.

Dual UPC and 2D Barcodes for the Transition Period

This dual-barcode approach is being successfully used by brands that have already started pilot projects with the new barcodes.

How Can the New Barcodes be Printed on Packaging?

Check back soon for the next article in this series covering this topic.

Where to Learn More

There are a lot of resources to help with the 2D barcode transition. Some of my favorites include:

GS1 Sunrise 2027 resources are available here.

Digimarc has some excellent materials on 2D barcodes, I like this one and this one. Digimarc has also with using GS1 2D barcodes as part of their Digital Product Passport platform.

If you want to create your own GS1-compliant barcodes, the easiest way is to use label software from companies such as Seagull (Bartender) or Loftware. You can also check the Tech-IT barcode generator.

Need to validate the data in your GS1 Digital Link barcode to ensure you’ve structured it correctly? I like to use this Digimarc validation tool.

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