A UPC, short for a universal product code, is a type of code printed on retail product packaging to aid in identifying a particular item. It consists of two parts – the machine-readable barcode, which is a series of unique black bars, and the unique 12-digit number beneath it.
The purpose of UPCs is to make it easy to identify product features, such as the brand name, item, size, and color, when an item is scanned at checkout. In fact, that’s why they were created in the first place – to speed up the checkout process at grocery stores. UPCs are also helpful in tracking inventory within a store or warehouse.
To obtain a UPC for use on a product a company has to first apply to become part of the system. GS1 US, the Global Standards Organization, formerly known as the Uniform Code Council, manages the assigning of UPCs within the US.