Consumption: The barcode celebrates its 50th anniversary and prepares for its disappearance


The barcode celebrates its 50th anniversary and prepares for its disappearance

The commercial food identification system, a major contributor to the globalization of trade, celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2023, before being gradually replaced by the QR code, which is richer in information.


“Beep!” for customers such as checkout hosts and hostesses, the barcode is now a sound. Every day around the world, these vertical lines of various thicknesses are scanned 6 billion times. 70,000 products passing through checkouts every second. Another dizzying statistic: a medium-sized French brand like Système U (4th distributor in France with 11.6% of market share and nearly 1,700 stores) indicated that it recorded 523 million checkouts in 2022.

Inventory management, transport, traceability … The barcode, a real “product identity document”, “also allows professionals in the store to have access to other functionalities”, explains Laurence Vallana to AFP , France Director of SES-Imagotag, a company specializing in electronic labeling.

fruit chewing gum

If the barcode was initially patented in 1952, it was not really perfected and marketed until 1971. And on April 3, 1973, the barcode became, after consultation between major manufacturers and distributors, the system used to identify the consumer products they were going to trade in the decades to come. It will then be known as EAN-13 for “European Article Number” and 13 as the number of digits it has.

The first item to be scanned using its barcode, on June 26, 1974 in Ohio, was a packet of fruit chewing gum, now on display at the National Museum of American History in Washington. Today, the Global Standard 1 organization is responsible for the worldwide standardization of product identification.

It delivers for each product of each company that requests it, from Coca-Cola to a cheese producer, a unique identification code, the “global trade item number”, which will then be translated into a barcode. Each company must pay a contribution correlated to its turnover, from 98 euros to 4400 euros per year.

Go game and rap album

And a small revolution is taking shape, explained to AFP Renaud de Barbuat and Didier Veloso, respectively CEO of GS1 World and president of GS1 France: by 2027, the barcode will indeed “bow out” and “give way to the new standard developed by the organization” in the form of QR Code.

If the barcode has reminded certain artists, critics of overconsumption or globalization, of the bars of a prison, the appearance of the QR Code may recall the game of go: it is this game of Chinese origin that , with its combinations of black and white dots arranged on a square, inspired its creator in 1994, the Japanese Masahiro Hara.

QR Code stands for Quick Response Code and its advantage over barcodes is that it can incorporate much more information, eg product composition, essential for recycling. Its strengths: “capturing more product information, sharing an infinite number of digital contents”, or “creating new uses accessible to all, in particular to consumers”, summarizes GS1.

Some brands already add these codes to their products, allowing customers to find out more about their manufacture or their characteristics. This gesture was largely democratized at the time of the Covid-19 epidemic. Like the barcode before it, the QR Code was quickly diverted from its economic use, used by artists, as on the cover of the album “V” by French rapper Vald, or recently deployed as a banner in a gallery of stadium by the ultra supporters of Paris Saint-Germain…

Applied to consumer products, GS1 believes that the QR Code will be “a great tool for developing the circular economy”, including recycling, reuse and re-use. Those nostalgic for barcodes can rest assured: “the 13 small digits to identify a product will remain”, indicates GS1. The transition will be smooth.

(AFP)Show comments

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