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Smart barcodes: an extra dimension to the barcode

The retail and grocery industry is undergoing a transformation from classic linear barcodes to GS1 QR codes and GS1 DataMatrix - two-dimensional
(2D) barcodes, also known as smart barcodes.

Trade in goods simply takes on an extra dimension and brings new benefits to consumers, businesses and society.

About 2D barcodes

2D codes are two-dimensional symbols on the packaging in the variants QR codes, GS1 QR and GS1 Data Matrix. The codes contain rich amounts of information about products that are scanned in-store.

Two-dimensional codes enable both traditional scanning at the checkout and with the consumer's mobile phone. As an information carrier, the code offers efficient communication throughout the logistics flow and directly with the end user of the product - and much, much more.

With a simple mobile scan, the consumer can get detailed product information. Combined with GS1 Digital Link, you can also offer a host of digital options to help mobile customers engage with your brand.

However, 2D barcodes are not new in Denmark.

Back in 2019, the healthcare sector adopted GS1 Datamatrix to prevent counterfeit medicines in the supply chain.

Why 2D barcodes in retail?

Consumers today have a greater need for information about products than ever before. Governments, the UN, the EU, organisations and industries are pushing for a sustainable direction, increased traceability and visibility in the supply chain. One effect of this is that they are making new demands for information.

The classic linear barcode contains only the GS1 product identification number (GTIN), but is no longer sufficient to meet tomorrow's requirements and demands.

With 2D barcodes, companies can meet the new needs by adding more data to the barcode on the packaging, as it has a much higher information capacity. And retailers and other actors in the supply chain will be able to read the information by adapting their systems.

The ambition is that 2D barcodes will be implemented globally and readable in all stores' systems by 2027.

2D barcodes give you better communication options with the consumer

A 2D barcode on a product gives manufacturers the opportunity to tell consumers exactly what they want to know about a product. With a few clicks on the phone, a 2D barcode can be scanned and send the consumer to a page where they can read more about the product in hand. Manufacturers then have the opportunity to tell exactly the story they want about the product.

Consumers can access information on climate impact, on animal welfare, access campaigns and reviews or get relevant and useful allergen information. In other words, manufacturers are given more opportunities to brand themselves and their product through 2D barcodes. This can increase engagement with the product and can lead to better data about your product.

Three advantages of 2D barcodes

Direct link to product information

2D barcodes give consumers direct access to and targeted information about your brand and product.

Combine that with GS1 Digital Link and you can offer the consumer a wealth of engagement opportunities with your product.

Interaction after purchase

Consumers have the opportunity to access information about and interact with the product long after it has been purchased and paid for in the supermarket.

Better data and analysis

Interaction with and feedback of a product gives you increased and valuable insight into what consumers think of your product. This leads to better data and gives you better opportunities to develop and analyse your product in the future.

Want to learn more about what smart barcodes can do?

Interested in learning more about how smart barcodes can minimize food waste?

Then download our white paper - 'Less food waste through smart barcodes' now.

Download white paper here

You can also listen to the white paper

Listen to "Less food waste through smart barcodes" below or on your favorite podcast player.


Foreign experience with 2D barcodes

Meny in Norway: 18% reduction in food waste

In 2019, some good lessons were learned from our Nordic brothers. Meny in Norway launched a pilot project where 14 different own-brand meat products were first implemented with an extended one-dimensional barcode, but later switched to 2D barcodes. The experience of the pilot project was good, in that it was found that it was possible to reduce food waste by 18% in terms of dollars and cents. What happened was that people got a much better overview of their goods in the shops. They were much better able to assess which goods were selling well. It also gave them data on when to order new burger patties, for example, so that they did not have too many in stock and were therefore unable to sell them before the expiry date.

Experience has led to the roll-out of 2D barcodes on several product groups. These include fruit and vegetables, milk and cheese, and meat/eggs/poultry/fish. There are also plans to expand to external brands, so that 2D barcodes are not only used for own brands. As an added feature, Meny is also working on automatically discounting an item that is close to its expiry date when it is scanned at the checkout, so that it is no longer the job of staff to do this manually in-store.

Woolworths: 44% reduction in food waste and 21% increase in efficiency

In Australia, 2D barcodes have also been tried in the supermarket chain Woolworths. However, this has been done in several phases. In 2017, it started using an extended one-dimensional barcode on fresh fruit and vegetables, which are weighed and scanned at the checkout. It then followed up the following year with 2D barcodes on meat and poultry - mainly on its own brands. After a pilot project, in 2020 the 2D barcodes were rolled out to 310 different meat and poultry products, representing half of the range. In parallel, investments have been made in better IT systems to better manage the data from the barcodes. The aim is to expand to dairy products and ready meals.

The experience of the roll-out of 2D barcodes is that it is possible to achieve a reduction of up to 44% in the number of goods rejected due to expiry. Furthermore, experience also shows that there is a wide variation from store to store and that the reduction figures depend on how skilled the stores are in working with barcodes and data. The results also indicate that the store can achieve an increased efficiency of up to 21% by using 2D barcodes. However, there is still a big task in getting suppliers on board with the idea, as they were convinced they did not have the necessary technology, among other things. Conversation, increased knowledge and a guide to printing 2D barcodes helped to change this picture, however.

Advantages of 2D barcodes

Warehouse management

Get better inventory management, less administration, increased availability, strengthen the 'first in, first out' process and achieve less food waste.


Check authenticity of products, information on ingredients and origin, increase consumer confidence and transparency in the flow of goods.


Take care of your brand, discourage the sale of expired or recalled products and stop counterfeit products.


Get information on recycling, contribute to circular economy, reduce food waste via automatic price reduction on computer goods.

Engaged consumers

Provide easy access to product information, promotions, recipes and increase brand engagement.

Improved packaging

Better space marketing on packaging, prepared for future legislation and improved consumer experience.

Free up space on your products

It is not uncommon today to have several types of barcodes on one product.

There may be an EAN-13 barcode, which is used to identify the product itself in, for example, the cash register. And there may also be a 2D barcode or QR barcode on it, which can help provide more product information to consumers or retailers.

And with the many different labelling schemes that many also want to be able to display on their product, there can be a lack of space for ingredient lists or other things.

Therefore, there may be a good reason to use a 2D barcode on your product.
With a 2D barcode you can save a lot of space, as you can combine a lot of data into one barcode.

A 2D barcode can contain a much larger amount of data.

For example:

  • GTIN: 09521101530001
  • URL: 001/10/ABC123?17=270104
  • Batch/lot number: ABC123
  • Expiry date: 4 January 2027

This way, the cash register can scan your products, while customers with their smartphone can also engage with your brand by scanning the barcode and being redirected via GS1 Digital Link to a website you have prepared for them.

* This can also be a GS1 Datamatrix

Frequently asked questions

What are the benefits of replacing the EAN barcode with the 2D barcode?

The EAN code has some limitations that make it unable to solve important business needs.

These limitations have led more companies to implement 2D barcodes to achieve better solutions for traceability, supply chain visibility, increased consumer engagement, faster recalls, waste reduction and more.

What does the year 2027 mean for 2D barcodes?

The industry-defined goal is for 2D barcodes to be used globally (alongside existing barcodes) in retail stores by 2027, and it is expected that different players will move at different speeds towards that goal. Our global 2D barcode programme is working with various global stakeholders to coordinate activities leading towards this goal.

Will the traditional barcode disappear altogether?

No, the EAN barcode does not disappear. It will co-exist with the 2D barcode as long as it is needed. If it is not necessary to add data other than the GTIN (Global Trade Item Number) to the barcode, the traditional barcode can still be used.

The minimum requirement is that there must always be a GTIN in each barcode on packaging intended to be scanned in an output box.

What is GS1 Digital Link?

GS1 Digital Link is a standard that increases the flexibility of GS1 identifiers by defining how different GS1 standards are encoded into URLs and connecting identifiers to the Internet.

This means that GS1 identifiers, such as GTINs, now provide access to consumer-facing information, increasing the opportunity for enhanced brand loyalty, improved supply chain traceability information, connectivity via APIs to business partners, patient safety information and more. The possibilities are endless.

While a URL usually points to a single specific website, the URI syntax in GS1 Digital Link can be linked to all types of B2B and B2C information. If you tag your product with a QR code using GS1 Digital Link, the 2D barcode provides a URL that anyone can scan, while carrying a GS1 identifier - the same identifier used across the industry. You can find more information on the GS1 Digital Link landing page.

Why should I switch from EAN code to 2D barcode?

The EAN barcode has some limitations that have led many companies to implement 2D barcodes to build better traceability solutions, increase supply chain visibility, increase consumer engagement, have better recall preparedness, reduce waste and much more.

The regular barcode can only contain the GTIN of the product, whereas 2D barcodes can contain additional information, such as expiry dates, batch numbers and serial numbers. Having this kind of data in the barcode adds value by allowing information to be read automatically and processed.

Some 2D barcodes, such as a QR code combined with GS1 Digital Link, can contain additional information while connecting consumers and other users to additional information and offers online. In addition to containing more data, 2D barcodes are often smaller than traditional barcodes and also include other features such as built-in error correction, increasing reliability.

Do I need to have two barcodes on my product for a period of time? If yes, for how long?

For a transitional period, you will still need an EAN code on your packaging. This is because not all systems can handle 2D barcodes yet. This is also because 2D barcodes cannot be scanned by linear scanners used for traditional barcodes, but need optical scanning technology. Fortunately, optical scanners are becoming more common. Those systems that already have optical scanners may still need to make updates to handle the data contained in the 2D barcodes.

Until these updates are made at all retailers, dual labelling with both a 2D barcode and the existing EAN code will be needed for a transitional period. This will ensure that pilots can be carried out by retailers who have upgraded their hardware and software, while the existing functionality will still work for those who have not.

Which 2D barcode should I use?

To implement 2D, choose data carriers and syntax based on your business needs and your stakeholders' capabilities. GS1 recommends that you actively interact with your business partners to ensure that future work is collaborative and that the solutions developed comply with applicable regulations.

Can the data carrier encode a GS1 data syntax/format?

- Can the data carrier be created and used with the speed and quality required in the specific case?

- Can those who want to interact with the 2D barcode control and process it?


- Does the 2D barcode comply with legal requirements?

- Does the 2D barcode follow the standard for how your system should be used?


- Have data, data carriers, packaging, hardware and scanning software and the receiving system's ability to store and use data been taken into account?

- Have all internal and external stakeholders agreed to work towards the transition to the new solution? Stakeholders can be local GS1 member organisations, industry associations, trading partners and system vendors.

What additional information will be available?

The data encoded in barcodes and used in stores varies depending on the applications enabled. As a minimum, the store must be able to handle a GTIN in a barcode.

How will more barcodes on the packaging affect scanning in the output box?

Early results from pilot projects and other implementations of 2D barcodes in retail show that scanning 2D barcodes is as easy, efficient and fast as scanning EAN barcodes. In the global 2D programme, extensive testing is being carried out to gather insights into the performance of 2D.
These tests will provide answers to global priority questions such as: How fast can different barcodes be scanned with accuracy?

- How does the encoded data (quantity, type) affect scanning speed and accuracy?

- How well do scanning systems find information on packaging with multiple barcodes?

- How should barcodes be placed in relation to each other to get the best scan results?

- How does the number of barcode types a scanning system looks for affect relative scanning performance?

What is the difference between the Future of On-Pack Coding program and the global 2D program?

- The Future of On-Pack Coding was initiated by GS1 in 2019 to explore the issues being raised globally regarding the need to have more information about products on the packaging. As a result, a series of tools have been developed based on insights from around the world. These include a library of key lessons, pilots and proof of concepts where 2D barcodes have been used in a variety of applications.

- The global 2D programme is the next phase of work and focuses on training and development of technical guidance and support for the introduction of 2D barcodes with a focus on retail and exit checkout management.

How much space is required on the packaging for a 2D barcode?

The amount of space required for a 2D barcode depends on the type of barcode used, how much data is encoded, and whether changes need to be made due to the material or shape of the package.

Section of the GS1 General Specifications specifies the minimum and maximum sizes for 2D barcodes on products. The table below shows barcodes in their minimum and maximum sizes based on the standards defined in the GS1 General Specifications (note: depending on the screen resolution, the actual size below may differ from the physical size)

Get to know the global 2D barcode application

Right now, a global transformation is underway, with companies and retailers working together to label packaging with one barcode - the 2D barcode.

The initiative to move from 'striped to chequered' comes from the industry's leading global players and covers all retail and grocery product categories, including variable weight goods.

Read more about 2D barcodes globally below:

Do you have further questions?

GS1 Sweden will convene information sessions in 2022 to explain more about what applies and how you can get started implementing 2D codes. By filling out the form, you will receive a direct invitation when the time comes.

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We are ready to help you

If you have questions about 2D barcodes or need further information, we are always ready to guide you.

Mads Kibsgaard
Senior Sustainability and Business Developer
+45 39 16 90 08
Nikolaj Brink Laursen
Member Relations Manager
+45 39 16 90 23