If you are in the craft beer business, you are quite aware there is no shortage of hurdles, detours, fees, and legalese just to keep on truckin’. Design of your craft beer label is just one (sometimes complicated) step in expanding your packaging. The TTB, distributors, and retailers will look to you for any bar code information, and there can be annual renewals involved in bar code ownership. Therefore, I believe it is best that management of your UPC/bar codes stays in your hands. I’ve helped craft breweries expand their packaging before, and here are the questions I run into most often.

Not familiar with UPC bar codes? Watch this 3-minute video.

Do I even need a bar code? This seems like a headache.

C’mon! Challenges build character! But it is kind of a headache and it takes some patience. Fortunately, there is no legal requirement for everyone to have a bar code. You do not need a bar code if you plan on selling:

  • Through small or independent retailers
  • Directly to your end customers, i.e., the public
  • Online through your own e-commerce website
  • Online through auction sites (e.g.: eBay)

You will need to get a bar code if you sell your product through any retailer that uses the “Global Database.” Mass retailers like Amazon, Wal-Mart, and Kroger will require you to have a bar code.

Where does the UPC code come from? Mars?

It seems a mission to Mars would be less intimidating, but don’t worry your pretty little head! Keep in mind, though, you will have to fill out an application to obtain a bar code no matter where you go. The GS1-US (formerly the Uniform Code Council) is a non-profit agency that governs the assignment of bar codes, and one of their jobs is to make sure that no duplicates are issued. If you’re looking to buy several hundred or thousands of bar codes, go straight to the GS1-US. If you only need one or a handful or a hundred, you can buy them from re-sellers, but there are some companies doing sketchy things out there; be sure to buy from a reputable one. Find genuine companies through the Authenticated Number Registration Directory. Re-sellers must take it upon themselves to register with ANRD, and if a re-seller isn’t listed it doesn’t necessarily mean they are bogus.

There are benefits and drawbacks for going with either the GS1-US or a re-seller, so do your homework, plan for the future, and choose wisely. Here is a good blog post explaining the differences.

Do I have to pay for them (*crosses fingers*)?

Of course you do (*dangit*). The fees depend on who you purchase your codes from, how you answered your application questions, how many products you’ll sell, and your annual sales. The GS1-US does offer lower rates for smaller businesses who sell fewer products but would still like to be registered with the Global Database. Many mass retailers (e.g.: Wal-Mart, Kroger) require your bar code to be registered through GS1-US Global Database.

How do I keep track of my UPC numbers?

The easiest thing for you to do, if you have a small number of packaging sizes or beers you distribute, is to just use a simple Excel Spreadsheet (but I’m not your mother, you can manage them in Braille if you want). If you registered with the GS1-US, you’ll get some free software for managing and creating new bar codes for future products.

Want to learn more? Here is a crash course on GS1-US. It’s a 16-minute long video, but I highly recommend watching it (and going the restroom first).

Other Questions that come up:

from Wikipedia.org

How big does a UPC code have to be?

They should be 1.469 inches wide by 1.02 inches high. You can crop the lines so they are shorter in some cases, and there are exceptions if your product is itty-bitty…but no one buys a 1-ounce can of beer. Width is from the outermost side of each exterior numbers, height is from the top of the lines to the bottom of the numbers.

Does it have to be black and white?

Short answer: no. Safe answer: it should be. If you have a vector image of your bar code, I can change it to dark blue or dark green and the background to pale yellow, but to guarantee that your bar codes scan, I strongly recommend black and white.

Will you do all this bar code registration malarkey for me?

Yes, for the price of my hourly design rate plus any and all costs obtaining the code.

Posted on