Before beginning to use barcodes, the numbers used on barcodes need to be created . In most cases, these are Global Trade Item Numbers (GTINs) also known as Universal Product Codes (UPCs) or European Article Numbers (EANs).

GTINs uniquely identify products down to very specific details and can track a product as it moves through the global value chain all the way to the end user. If a product comes back into the value chain as a re-sold item or needs to be recalled, it can be re-identified by its original GTIN.

GTINs can also be used to identify specific packaging configurations, including pallets, cases, inners, and point-of-sale/point-of-use items or even distribution/warehouse logistics.

Although GTINs are frequently encoded within a barcode, they can also be used on their own (some major online sellers use GTINs to authenticate a product before allowing it to be sold on their platform).

Beginning January 1, 2019, all new GTINs created will be non-reusable and will be permanently assigned to each unique product.

Benefits of a GTIN

Using a GTIN to identify products:

  • Reduces confusion by accurately identifying specific products and avoiding duplicated product data within the value chain
  • Improves data quality by ensuring identical product data is used by all trading partners
  • Fights product counterfeiting by giving parties along the value chain access to a single authenticated record of product owners
  • Saves time and frees up resources by eliminating manual processes to keep track of multiple proprietary identification numbers.
  • Enables automation, such as barcode scanning, along the entire value chain whether at a receiving dock or by a hospital bedside.
  • Increases the efficiency of payment and reporting processes
  • Provides a permanent record of products that can be leveraged when a product is resold or recalled

Increasingly, trading partners mandate that their suppliers have standardized product identifiers before they will agree to do business with them. In Canada, that means GTINs.

There are multiple types of GTINs with GTIN-12s, GTIN-13s and GTIN-14s, being 12, 13 and 14 digits in length respectively.

GTIN-12s and GTIN-13s are made up of three parts:

  1. Global Company Prefix Number: This unique company identifier will be between 6 digits (able to create up to 100,000 GTINs) and 9 digits long (able to create up to 100 GTINs).
  2. Item Reference Number (IRN): This part of the GTIN specifies the item being identified. In a GTIN-12, the combined total number of digits between your Global Company Prefix number and IRN must be 11.
  3. Check Digit: The last digit of a barcode number is a computer check digit which makes sure the barcode is correctly composed. To generate a check digit, or understand how they are calculated, visit the Check Digit Calculator page.

GTIN-14s include an extra part at the beginning called an Indicator Digit. Ranging from 1-8, this digit indicate what packaging level the rest of the GTIN refers to. Indicator “9” is utilized only when there is additional information about weight and counts are provided (Variable Weight and Count) that need to be included.

You will need different kinds of GTIN for different uses. Each can be encoded into specific barcode types (known as barcode symbologies).

For Retail Point-of-Sale Products, only GTIN-12 and GTIN-13 are approved for retail point-of-sale applications.

  • GTIN-12s can be encoded with UPC-A and UPC-E barcode symbologies.
  • GTIN-13s can be encoded with the EAN-13 barcode symbology.

For Logistic units (Inner packs, Cases and Pallets) consisting of a omogeneous grouping, you can use GTIN-14s or assign GTIN-12s or GTIN-13s.

  • GTIN-14s can only be encoded in barcode symbologies that have a 14-digit capacity. These include ITF-14, GS1-128, GS1 DataBar™, and Data Matrix.
  • Note: for healthcare items, GTIN-14 may be assigned to a level below “EACH”

Generally, you will need one GTIN for each of your products and another, different type of barcode for each packaging format, such as pallet or case.

You may find you need more GTINs than you thought.

You should also consider how many barcodes you will need as your business grows to ensure you have enough GTINs to cover any new products you launch or updates to your existing products.

The number of GTINs required based on having three variations of the following: sizes, flavours, specialities, packages and cases.
  1. Subscribe to GS1 Canada to get your GTINs and/or Company Prefix
  2. Assign GTINs to your individual products and supply product information.
  3. Create barcodes (if needed) for each GTIN. GS1 Canada does not currently provide artwork for barcode symbology. You can use a solution provider to get a barcode based on your GTINs.
  4. Apply your new barcodes to appropriate places on your product packaging.

GTINs refer to unique products, when products change substantively, it may require a new GTIN to ensure it is not confused with your older versions, or other products in the value chain. GTIN Management Standards are designed to help.

Find out more about GTIN Management Rules at the global level by visiting the global GS1 GTIN Management Standard webpage.

In general, three guiding principles should be considered by any brand owner when introducing changes to an existing product:

1. Is a consumer and/or trading partner expected to distinguish the changed product from previous/current products?
2. Is there a regulatory/liability disclosure requirement to the consumer and/or trading partner?
3. Is there a substantial impact to the supply chain (e.g., how the product is shipped, stored, received)?