What is a Universal Product Code?

UPC code numbers are used to identify retail products. They are typically barcodes.

In a 12-digit UPC bar code there are three main parts:

  • Company prefix
  • Item reference number
  • Check digit

The company prefix is the first 6 digits of the UPC barcode. For the Coca-Cola Company, for example, the company prefix is 049000. This number will be the first 6 digits of the barcode for all Coca-Cola products. Company prefixes are assigned and licensed to companies by the Uniform Code Council (UCC). The company is a member of the UCC and pays an annual fee to the UCC (currently based on its gross sales) to license this unique number.

The item reference number follows. It has 5 digits. It identifies the specific product and its size, color, flavor, and so on.

The check digit is the 12th number. The check digit is designed to identify errors in the code; we'll discuss the check digit more on the following pages.

Go to checkupc.com and enter these product codes. What products do they identify? What do the differences in the codes represent?

  • 049000000443
  • 049000000450
  • 012000001291
  • 012000001130

Many common brand names actually belong to the same parent company. Look around your house or classroom for common household items – paper towels, cleaners, toothpaste, detergents, etc. – and enter the UPCs at checkupc.com. Can you find two codes for different brands but from the same company?

an ISBN barcode and number