GS1 2D data-embedded barcodes are coming in 2019 – what Australian food & beverage suppliers need to know

Woolies is trialling GS1 2D data-embedded barcodes

Two-dimensional codes have been around for a while without attracting much attention outside of using a fixed QR-code for consumer engagement. Now, a recent announcement from Woolworths has put the spotlight on GS1 2D codes for retail point of sale (POS) to cut product recall food waste and improve traceability.  

See how track-and-trace can help you become a manufacturer of the future.

With so many codes to get their heads around, it’s no surprise that most Australian manufacturers aren’t exactly aware of the full capabilities of 2D barcodes , let alone how they can add value to their business and processes. After all, it’s 1D codes, such as the EAN13 barcode, that most food & beverage suppliers rely on to identify products at retail POS.

But that’s potentially all about to change. Woolworths has just announced that it will trial GS1 data-embedded (2D) barcodes with selected meat and poultry suppliers in nominated stores from August 2019, to help reduce product recall food waste and sales of expired products. 

It’s never been more important for Australian manufacturers – in particular of fresh produce – to know the essentials of GS1 2D data-embedded barcodes. 

In this article, we provide an overview of 2D barcodes, how are they different from 1D codes, and why they matter to Australian manufacturers in fresh produce in 2019 and beyond. 

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What are 2D codes? 

A two-dimensional (2D) barcode is a graphic that stores information both horizontally (as does a 1D barcode) and vertically. When we talk about 2D codes, we’re usually talking about barcodes such as Datamatrix and QR codes. 

1D codes have been around for decades – the EAN/UPC barcode is the “original” barcode, created in 1973 and placed on a pack of Wrigley’s chewing gum. 

Since then, this 1D barcode has been used to identify billions of POS and trade items. However, there are limitations to 1D codes – and many of these are addressed by 2D codes. 

The most important thing about 2D codes is their ability to pack lots of data into a small space– far more than a linear 1D barcode. 

2D codes can hold the product’s batch, supplier, serial numbers, use-by and best before dates.  

Benefits of 2D codes include:

  • Save valuable packaging space:2D codes can store more information and more character types in a smaller space than 1D codes. 
  • Get high quality results. 2D codes can be more tolerant of fluctuations in print quality than 1D barcodes, meaning they canremain legible even at a small size or when etched onto a product. 
  • Creative applications:Codes are read and decoded using an image-based reader, including smartphone cameras, which makes them ideal for promotions and competitions
  • Error checking:2D codes come with built-in error checking systems, meaning if a code is damaged, it has a lot more redundancy inbuilt to still successfully read the barcode compared with a damaged 1D code.

The best-known types of 2D codes are QR codes, or Quick Response codes. QR codes are 2D barcodes commonly used by brand owners mostly for competitions, promotions and links to a website to provide more information about a product or services. Consumers can now scan QR codes using an app on their smartphone or these days direct from the smartphone’s camera – no app needed – which then typically directs the user to a webpage or social media profile. 

Interested in how to crack promotional codes?  See part 1 on QR codes here. 

QR codes are a popular way for brands to build consumer engagement, as well as letting consumers quickly authenticate products and find their origin.

See here how CDI uses QR codes for product authentication.

Another type of 2D code is the Datamatrix; this is a compact 2D barcode symbol made up of square modules. The Datamatrix barcode has been popular in pharmaceuticals for traceability and authentication requirements for many years. The ability to now use Datamatrix for fresh produce at retail POS to reduce waste and improve traceability back to the source looks like a reality should the Woolworths trial be a success and roll out nationally.

Interested in what the National Food Waste Strategy means for food labelling? Or how the world is tackling food waste?

Why GS1 2D data-embedded barcodes matter in 2019 

One of the main reasons we have been using GS1 2D data-embedded barcodes for the food & beverage industry is to authenticate products.Australia is a significant exporter of fooddairy and wine to Asia, where counterfeiting is a growing challenge to brand owners and a risk to consumers. Fake products are costing the global food industry billions of dollars every year, not to mention the diminishing trust in Australian brands. 

There are already good case studies from Australian food & beverage companies that are already using 2D codes as part of serialisation to allow consumers anywhere in the world to check product authenticity and provenance. 

See how Aussie wine makers are beating the counterfeiters.

With serialisation, a unique number is applied onto each individual unit using a data carrier, such as a 2D code. Consumers can scan the code using their smartphone and identify the individual product, along with its origin and other key information, such as recipes. 

While the use of 2D barcodes has, until now, been largely focused on exported products to fight food fraud, the opportunity is now to combat food waste and improve traceability back to source domestically. In the unfortunate event of product recalls in fresh produce, the implementation of GS1 2D barcodes, it will allow retailers to isolate affected product batches, making it easier than the current processes to identify the recall’s correct source and avoid sending unaffected products to landfill.  

The result is dramatically improved traceability through the supply chain and less wastage – something that is front of mind for all retailers and suppliers today. 

Another reason Woolworths will be trialling GS1 2D barcodes at POS is to prevent sales of expired products, especially meat. Because GS1 2D codes can include expiry and best-before dates, retail staff no longer have to manually label food & beverage products. Instead, when the code is scanned at POS, the system will alert customers that the product is past its expiry date and will block the purchase.

In other words, the GS1 2D code gives greater control in store. 

Next Steps

If you supply food & beverages to Australian supermarkets, now’s the time to learn more about GS1 2D data-embedded barcodes and what you need to do to be ready for the shift that is emerging in 2019. Woolworths is beginning trials in August, which means other supermarkets are sure to follow suit. 

Speak to Matthews Australasia about how to print inline GS1 2D data-embedded barcodes onto your products, which technologies will work best in your packaging line, and how to stay compliant with GS1 Australia standards. As a GS1 Strategic Alliance Partner, we’ve got the experience and expertise you need to implement the right processes, cost-effectively. 

Check out The Ultimate Guide To Coding and Labelling, including different types of coding & labelling technology and how to choose the one that’s right for you. Download Now

Image credit: iStock/ tribal-warrior

Mark Dingley
Mark Dingley is Chairman of the Australian Packaging and Processing Machinery Association (APPMA) and is the CEO at Matthews Australasia. With 25 years of experience in the product identification industry and the wealth of knowledge gained from working closely with industry associations in developing and implementing standards & best practice, Mark is able to assist manufacturers with a range of issues from getting real-time visibility of their production line, improving automation, establishing quality assurance using machine vision to selecting the best fit technology for coding and labelling applications. Mark Dingley's LinkedIn Profile
Mark Dingley

by Mark Dingley

Mark Dingley is Chairman of the Australian Packaging and Processing Machinery Association (APPMA) and is the CEO at Matthews Australasia. With 25 years of experience in the product identification industry and the wealth of knowledge gained from working closely with industry associations in developing and implementing standards & best practice, Mark is able to assist manufacturers with a range of issues from getting real-time visibility of their production line, improving automation, establishing quality assurance using machine vision to selecting the best fit technology for coding and labelling applications. Mark Dingley's LinkedIn Profile

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