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How to Get a Barcode for your Food Label


If you sell your food product in a store, it needs a barcode. How do you go about getting one, what does it cost, and what are the requirements?

Forty years ago, the first barcode was introduced on a package of Wrigley’s gum. Today it is a given that retail products have barcodes – over 5 billion barcode products are scanned around the world each day. If you need a barcode for your food labels, how do you obtain one, and what kind of rules do you need to follow?


Step One

Every retail barcode in 108 countries, including the US, is assigned by GS1, so your first step is to go to their website and pay for a membership. This will give you your unique identification number, which is also the first 12 digits of a UPC number. Your paid membership gives you access to the UPC creation tool as well as reference, support, and educational materials. The minimum membership is $250 plus an annual renewal fee of $50. This will let you generate UPCs for up to ten products. There are cheaper alternatives to barcodes, but you won’t receive an ID number. The first 12 digits will match the identification of some other company; most retailers require that the barcode link back to the brand owner of the product. This won’t link back to you with a budget barcode.


Elements of the Bar Code

There are three sections of a UPC barcode. They are:
  • The company prefix – the first 6-10 digits that identifies your company (as given to you by GS1)
  • Item reference number – You assign this number. It should be unique to the particular product.
  • Check digit – this is calculated using your company prefix and item reference number. GS1 offers a calculator that can help you determine this.


Requirements for the Bar Code

Once you have the barcode itself, you need to follow some guidelines on how to print and size it. These requirements include:
  • The bar colors have to be dark, like black, dark blue, dark brown, or dark green.
  • Bar codes have to be a minimum of one-half inch on the label.
  • They must be printed as a single line color, by a single imaging tool (no multi-pass printing)
  • You’re required to have a Quiet Zone around the barcode where there are no design elements. The backgrounds in the Quiet Zone must be light in color.
  • The background of a barcode should be solid – no patterns or busy areas.
  • If the color of the package gives the barcode background a light, solid color, you do not need to print a background for it.
  • You are allowed to use red for backgrounds because it will be invisible to the red light source in the scanning equipment.

It is extremely frustrating to retailers (and customers doing self checkout) when barcodes don’t scan accurately. Make sure that the barcodes you use are visible and follow the above guidelines for easy reading. Your label company may be able to help you with questions and advice, too. Just make sure you’re using a experienced label company that knows your niche. Adhesive Label Company specializes in labels for grocery, food processing, and bakery. With 50 years of experience, we deliver competitively superior products, the highest quality customer service, and an unbeatable price. Connect with us for questions or orders: 1-800-542-0016.