One scan. Infinite possibilities.

The next generation of barcodes, powered by GS1 standards, is revolutionizing the way we do business in Canada and around the world. Consumers, patients, brand owners, retailers and regulators are all demanding more product information and transparency, and these new two-dimensional (2D) barcodes can meet these demands by enabling access to more supply chain data through a simple scan.

Industries Across Canada are Transitioning to 2D Barcodes Powered by GS1 Standards

The industry-driven global shift to 2D barcodes is progressing at different rates across countries and industries.

As a trusted strategic partner, GS1 Canada is working with our sector and industry partners to identify and develop 2D implementation roadmaps. In Canada, the pharmacy and cannabis communities are moving forward with the transition to the GS1 DataMatrix, a type of 2D barcode.

Cannabis

For cannabis stakeholders, including licensed producers, retailers, jurisdictions and distributors, the implementation timeline for the GS1 DataMatrix is January 31, 2025.

Pharmacy & Healthcare

Pharmacy retail and hospital pharmacies have set a target date of December 31, 2025 for implementing the GS1 DataMatrix.

Global Retailers

The global timeline for all retailers to be ready to scan 2D barcodes at point-of-sale locations is 2027.

Benefits of 2D Barcodes Powered by GS1 Standards


Smaller Barcode, Big Impact
  • 2D barcodes can be scanned in any direction, even if damaged or torn, reducing transaction delays and disruption at checkout, in a hospital or at the point of patient care. Built-in error correction and a higher fault tolerance helps ensure important supply chain data can still be retrieved, even when partially damaged.
  • The smaller barcode size can be stamped directly onto different surfaces, including metal-ideal for small medical devices and equipment.
  • Less barcode space required for packing results in more space for marketing and product information.
  • If a recalled product reaches checkout of the patient care level, the 2D barcode scan could alert that the item must not be sold or used, preventing the use or sale of potentially harmful products.
Support for More Sustainable Practices
  • 2D barcodes increase visibility to data needed for sustainability initiatives, including sourcing information, packaging details, recycling information and more.
  • Visibility to expiration, best-before and sell-by dates enables retailers, healthcare providers and other supply chain stakeholders to sell or promote soon-to-expire products.
  • More effective inventory management and stock rotation helps reduce financial loss, with fewer expired products needing to be disposed of.
  • For small products, the shift to a much smaller barcode means a reduction in unnecessary oversized packaging, currently needed to meet regulatory labelling requirements. This will significantly contribute to a reduction in packaging waste.

Did You Know?

Oversized packaging for many cannabis products cannot be recycled, with an estimated 6.4 million kilograms of plastic cannabis packages ending up in landfills across Canada.

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Types of 2D Barcodes

The GS1 DataMatrix and QR Code are the most commonly used 2D barcodes.

Today, brand owners using a QR code for consumer engagement must also include a second barcode, such as UPC-A, to enable access to supply chain data and POS scanning for price lookup. The product information can be embedded into a QR code using GS1 Digital Link Syntax enabling access to the GTIN for supply chain applications, such a price lookup, while also enabling consumers to connect to online resources.

The table below outlines how traditional 1D barcodes compare to next generation 2D barcodes.

2D Barcodes

GS1 DataMatrix


Learn more about other types of Data Matrix barcodes here.

  • Can carry significantly more data, including GTIN, best before date, lot/batch, serial number, expiry date and more.
  • Cannot be scanned by mobile phones.
  • Requires less space on-pack, leaving more room for product branding. It can also be used on small product packaging or stamped onto different surfaces, like metal.
  • Scannable from any direction.

QR Code Powered by GS1

  • Can carry significantly more data such as GTIN, best before date, lot/batch, serial number, expiry date and more, while also enabling consumers to connect to online resources.
  • Can be scanned by mobile phones.
  • Requires less space on-pack, leaving more room for product branding. It can also be used on small product packaging or stamped onto different surfaces, like metal.
  • Scannable from any direction.

1D Barcodes

Linear, 1D Barcodes

UPC-A

Expanded DataBar

Stacked DataBar

  • UPC can include GTIN only.
  • Expanded DataBar and Stacked DataBar can Include GTIN, lot/batch number and packaging date.
  • Cannot be scanned by mobile phones.
  • Significant space can be required on pack, often requiring wasteful, oversized packaging for small products to meet regulatory labelling requirements.
  • Uni-directional scanning.

New Educational Resource: The Value of 2D Barcodes

To help you understand the benefits of this innovative technology and prepare for the global shift to next-generation barcodes, we are introducing the first in a series of brief educational modules.

Module 1: The Value of 2D Barcodes

Length: 10 Minutes

Who Should Take It? This resource is available for all GS1 Canada subscribers, no matter your role, the industry or sector you’re in, the size of your business or where you are on your 2D journey.

Not a subscriber? Learn more.

In this module, you will learn:

  • What next generation 2D barcodes are and why they were developed.
  • The types and benefits of 2D barcodes.
  • The differences between traditional barcodes and 2D barcodes.
  • Next steps

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Global Case Studies

Parla Deli from Brazil scans the world's first 2D barcode

Parla Deli is unlocking business value and connecting to customers by implementing the very latest GS1 standards.

Multiple benefits from 2D barcodes at Woolworths

Woolworths and selected suppliers are using 2D barcodes with GS1 standards to achieve substantial results, including enhancing food safety and reducing food waste by up to 40%.

7-Eleven Thailand boosts consumer safety and satisfaction with next generation barcodes

Consumers deserve safe and good quality products. This is why 7-Eleven Thailand implemented next generation barcodes powered by GS1 that can hold rich product information ensuring only good quality products for consumers.

2D Barcode FAQs

  • The GS1 DataMatrix and QR Code are the most common 2D barcodes.
  • 2D barcodes look like squares or rectangles that contain many small, individual squares in contrast to 1D linear barcodes which are made up of vertical lines. 2D examples are shown below.
  • In addition to holding the GS1 GTIN®, 2D barcodes have the capacity to hold significantly more product data than 1D barcodes, including a product's batch or lot number, serial number, expiry date, URLs, etc.
  • Cannabis: Cannabis timeline for all supply chain trading partners including Licensed Producers, Jurisdictions, Distributors and Retailer's is January 1st, 2025
  • Pharmacy: Pharmacy retailers and Hospital Pharmacies have a timeline for implementing 2D is December 31, 2025.
    Note: The timeline for pharmacy manufacturers and distributors was December 31, 2023.
  • Grocery: Global sunrise ambition date is 2027.

It's important to note that one-dimensional barcodes will not necessarily go away in retail.

During the transition, both a 2D and linear barcode (each containing the same GTIN) can be placed side by side on a package, ensuring the needs of trading partners and consumers are met until all scanning equipment is ready to read 2D barcodes.

One-dimensional barcodes will not completely go away: we expect 1D, QR and GS1 DataMatrix codes to coexist in the retail landscape.

  • 2D barcodes can only be read by camera-ready or optical scanners.
  • Camera-ready scanners can read both 2D barcodes and linear (1D) barcodes.

GS1 Canada offers a Barcode Scan Verification service for GS1 DataMatrix to its subscribers for a nominal fee. Barcode Scan Verification assesses your printed barcode images to ensure that they can be scanned the first time, and every time. By identifying any problems with barcodes before wide-scale production of packaging begins, brand owners can avoid the unwelcomed scenario where products must be withdrawn, packaging redesigned and reprinted all because a barcode does not scan when it should. To access this service, go to gs1ca.org/barcode-scan-verification, click on “Submitting Product, Print Proofs or Labels for Barcode Scan Verification” and follow the steps to submit your barcode for verification.

Globally the Healthcare community has agreed to use a GS1 DataMatrix which is derived from ISO Data Matrix. The GS1 DataMatrix isthe only version of a Data Matrix barcode that enables the encoding of GS1 Keys (e.g., GTIN) and attributes (e.g., expiration date) within GS1 Application Identifiers. If an ISO Data Matrix barcode is used, GS1 Application Identifiers may not be readable by scanners. For more information on pharmaceutical products FAQ check: Pharmacy - Roadmap

It's important to note that the GS1 DataMatrix is a specific type of Data Matrix barcode that can contain GS1 application identifiers.

You should verify whether your organization's current scanning system is equipped to scan 2D barcodes, which require image-based scanning capability. Usually, a simple reconfiguration of existing image-based scanners is sufficient to enable successful scanning.

However, if you currently use a laser scanner, an upgrade is necessary to enable scanning of 2D barcodes. If the image-based scanners that you currently have lack the ability to process 2D barcodes, the scanners could potentially be enhanced with a simple software update. For specific information on how to enable your scanners please consult your scanning equipment provider.

  • Single barcode: Consumers are less confused with a single barcode carrying more information. (QR code)
  • Scan capabilities: 2D barcodes feature built-in error correction. This means that they can restore data if the code is damaged or smudged. The error correction is intended to allow a measure of redundancy for localized, isolated damage only. If there is a tear or scratch to a small part of the code, then the error correction will kick in and the user will still get a good read.
  • Safety: Having additional information such as lot or batch number and expiry date helps the retailers stop sale of a product and clinicians to ensure the correct and safe product is administered to the patient.
  • Next Level Consumer Engagement: A QR code is a type of 2D barcode that can help extend consumer engagement during and post-purchase by linking to additional product details, promotions and other types of consumer-focused content.

All approved 2D barcodes enabled by GS1 Standards require a 14-digit GTIN. If you have a GTIN-12 (or UPC), you need to add two leading zeros to make it a 14-digit GTIN. If you have a 13-digit GTIN, you need to add one leading zero to make it 14-digits GTIN. When transitioning to a 2D barcode you do not need to assign a new GTIN

Application Identifiers or AIs are used to encode information in the GS1 barcodes. AIs are numeric prefixes that are used to define the meaning and format of the information that is encoded in a barcode.

For example, as you see on the image below the AI 01 is used to identify the GTIN. In a similar way application identifier 13 is identifying the packaging date and AI 10 is identifying the lot or batch number.

GS1 has more than 500 application identifiers that enable encoding of additional information to enhance various business processes.