U.P.C. Bar Code Celebrates 30th Birthday June 25th; The Famous Universal Product Code Marks Three Decades of Providing Benefits to Consumers and Business.
It is estimated that the U.P.C. has saved shoppers, retailers, and manufacturers over a trillion dollars and become an essential part of everyday commerce and consumer life. With the initial scan of a pack of Wrigley's chewing gum on June 26th, 1974, no one could have imagined that the now-familiar bar code would transform global commerce so quickly and so profoundly.
Michael Di Yeso, the President and Chief Operating Officer of the UCC said, "The Uniform Code Council is proud of the many ways the U.P.C. bar code has improved business and brought convenience and benefits to consumers around the world. This bar code has become a real business icon. It gets better with age."
The Birth of the Bar Code
The U.P.C. was the outgrowth of meetings that took place in the late 1960's by leaders of the U.S. grocery industry who were searching for ways to reduce food costs and congestion at the checkout line. In 1974, after five years of development, the U.P.C. was introduced. Don Marsh, the Chairman and CEO of the Indianapolis-based Marsh Supermarket Chain, agreed to make their Troy, Ohio store the site of the first U.P.C. system.
Jodi Marsh, Vice President of Community Affairs for Marsh Supermarkets said, "Being the first store in the world to implement the U.P.C. is a real source of pride for the entire Marsh Supermarket chain. Today we're 16,000 employees strong, and every associate knows what an important role the Marsh organization played in making the U.P.C. such a major force in business." Sharon Buchanan, the Marsh Supermarket cashier who made the first U.P.C. scan said, "When they started installing the new equipment, we knew it was important, but we had no idea just how far this bar code would go."
Foundation for a Global Language of Business
Originally developed to help supermarkets speed up the checkout process, the U.P.C. is composed of a row of 59 black and white bars that vary in length that are read by the scanner. Printed beneath the bars is a series of 12 numbers, which together identify the manufacturer and the specific product.
The U.P.C.'s benefits went far beyond the checkout lane. It eliminated the need for manual pricing, resulting in lower-priced products. Checkouts became faster and more accurate, saving consumers time and money. The U.P.C. also allowed retailers and manufacturers to manage and replenish inventory more efficiently, as well as automate many processes and operations, like special promotions, coupons, and product returns.
The expansion of the U.P.C. has allowed the Uniform Code Council to develop an entire family of bar codes that allow companies to uniquely identify products, but also cartons, cases, pallets, assets, and even coupons. The organization estimates that these bar codes are scanned over 10 billion times a day worldwide. The economic benefits of the U.P.C. have been enormous. A 1999 PriceWaterhouseCoopers study estimated that the bar code saves over 17 billion dollars annually in the domestic retail industry alone--probably much more in today's economy.
Today, the Universal Product Code lives up to its name as a truly universal bar code. It is now used in 23 major industries, including grocery, retail, healthcare, government, foodservice, industrial/commercial, transportation, and high-technology. In 1977, EAN International, the UCC's global partner, began commercializing a 13-digit companion bar code to the U.P.C. called EAN-13. The worldwide success of both symbologies became the foundation for the EAN-UCC System of bar code and electronic commerce standards, which are used by over one million companies to facilitate efficient commerce in 141 nations. EAN International and the UCC have announced plans to rename their organizations GS1, with a planned rollout in 2005.
The U.P.C.'s success has allowed the UCC to introduce new standards initiatives to benefit consumers and industry. Reduced Space Symbology, a smaller "bar code cousin" to the U.P.C. is now being used to mark small healthcare items, such as vials, blister packs, ampules, and syringes. Earlier this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mandated that pharmaceutical companies bar code their medicines down to the unit of dose so that they can be scanned in hospitals and endorsed Reduced Space Symbology as a means to reduce medication errors. Mr. Di Yeso said, "It is gratifying to think that the same bar code technology we developed 30 years ago to save time in the grocery checkout lane will now be used to save lives."
The UCC is also in the process of working with industry to standardize and commercialize its newest innovation called the Electronic Product Code. This "wireless bar code" will use low-power radio frequency tags and readers to automatically capture information like bar coding, but with even greater benefits to consumers. Di Yeso stated, "We strongly believe that once manufacturers, distributors, and retailers begin to adopt and use this technology in their businesses, its impact will eclipse the benefits achieved by the U.P.C. bar code."
In recognition of the U.P.C.'s impact on global commerce, the original pack of Wrigley's gum and the actual checkout scanning unit from the Troy, Ohio Marsh store are now housed at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History in Washington, DC. Ms. Buchanan added, "A few years ago my granddaughter went on her class trip to Washington. They visited the Smithsonian and she took everyone to the U.P.C. display and told them her grandma was part of that. The funny thing was that nobody would believe her."
About the Uniform Code Council
The Uniform Code Council, Inc. (UCC) is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the development and implementation of standards-based, global supply chain solutions. Under its auspices, the UCC operates three subsidiaries, UCCnet, RosettaNet, and EPCglobal US and it co-manages the global EAN-UCC System with EAN International. The UCC also manages the United Nations Standard Products and Services Code (UNSPSC(R)) for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The newly formed EPCglobal, Inc. is a joint venture of the Uniform Code Council and EAN International. UCC-based solutions, including business processes, XML standards, EDI transaction sets, and the bar code identification standards of the EAN-UCC System are currently used by more than one million member companies worldwide. For more information about the Uniform Code Council, please visit: www.uc-council.org.
About Marsh Supermarkets
One of the largest regional grocery chains in the United States, Marsh Supermarkets operates 67 Marsh Supermarkets, 37 LoBill Foods(R) stores, 1 Savin*$(R), 164 Village Pantry(R) convenience stores and 9 O'Malia Food Markets in central Indiana and western Ohio. The company also operates Crystal Food Services, which provides upscale catering, cafeteria management, office coffee vending and concessions, Primo Banquet Catering and Conference Centers, and Trios Di Tuscanos, a quick, casual restaurant. In addition, the company operates McNamara Florists and Enflora - Flowers for Business.
Marsh Supermarkets is a publicly held company that employs through its various divisions approximately 16,000 people, principally in a two-state area. Marsh common stock is traded on the NASDAQ National Market System (MARSA and MARSB).