The Global Language of Business

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GS1 standards

GS1 standards are a common language for identifying, labeling and exchanging information worldwide. Our standards are used to create a link between a product and the information associated with it.

Below you can download a PDF with the latest updated documentation for all our standards

GS1 General Specifications, January 2023

Identify, Capture, Share

What is a standard?

GS1 standards are a common language for identifying, capturing and sharing information with the world.

The standards are used to create a link between a product and the information associated with it. Think of the GS1 standard as a product DNA as it moves through the supply chain.

Get an overview of all GS1 standardsGet an overview of Application IdentifiersGet an overview of how certain Application Identifiers are usedGet an overview of Company Prefixes (Country Codes)

GS1: The Global Language of Business

A standard is something that several parties have agreed on. It could be that in traffic, red means "stop" and green means "go", or that a kilometer consists of a thousand meters, each consisting of a hundred centimeters.

A standard is therefore not a law of nature, but something man-made, which is designed based on mutual interests and through cooperation – and GS1 standards are no exception.

The corporate prefix is at its core

In the GS1 system, the company prefix forms the cornerstone of the identification numbers and it is the company prefix that makes them globally unique and thus can be used worldwide.

A GS1 company prefix always consists of a country code that makes up the first two digits. The country code thus follows the GS1 office which issued the Company Prefix; for GS1 Denmark it is 57.

The identity of the company, expressed in 5-9 digits, follows according to the need for the number of identification numbers available by the company concerned.  

The GS1 Company Prefix is therefore a globally unique number for your particular company, which identifies you and your products unequivocally for everyone in the supply chain – thereby tying your products to your particular company.  

Thus, it is through your GS1 Company Prefix that you form your barcode numbers (GTIN, for example).

The power of standards

GS1 Denmark has company members from virtually every active sector in Denmark, such as the grocery sector, construction, or healthcare.

Indeed, the strength of the GS1 standards is everything they cross sectors, as it will always be essential to have an efficient, secure and transparent supply chain.

In this way, GS1 Denmark creates the maximum value for our members, who through their membership can benefit from collaboration and experience, both within and across sectors in Denmark and the rest of the world.

GS1's Global System of Standards

We divide our system of standards into three different categories:

GS1 identification
GS1 labelling
GS1 data exchange  

This means that the GS1 standards can be applied at any level and in any sector – whether a GTIN and or GLN should be expressed in a barcode or not, or whether or not the exchange of master data on products should be standardised.

GS1 Identification

Our Identification Standards primarily address the identification numbers used across sectors to identify all relevant items, items, or players in a supply chain. This could be the number at which your company receives invoices, the number in the barcode of the milk at the supermarket, or the number in your Track-and-Trace code on your online order.

This is unique identification, and with GS1 standards you ensure that no other company uses the same numbers to identify their products.  

This gives your company, products and shipments the best conditions for moving freely through the supply chain – both inside and outside the country.  

GS1 Labelling

At GS1, labelling means that something is applied to a barcode and/or a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tag. These barcodes and RFID tags are carriers of data, such as GS1's Identification Numbers, and their role is to eliminate the need for manual entry – thereby making GS1 tagging reduce the human error associated with it, as well as making the process completed in a much shorter time.  

In practice, this means, for example, that a product is labeled with a barcode containing the product's unique ID number (GTIN), the pallet with a unique track 'n trace code (SSCC), or the warehouse port with a unique location identification (GLN).

Together with the GS1 standards for Identification, the GS1 Label ensures that identification numbers can be efficiently and safely intercepted and used as a "key", to retrieve underlying information relevant to a given business process. This could be the price of the product in the starting box, or the pallet's sender and receiver in the distribution center.  

GS1 Data Exchange

Once you have identified your company, products and shipments with GS1 identification, as well as expressed these through GS1 tagging (barcodes and/or RFID tags), the next step will be digitized, standardized data exchange.  

This can be basic data (logistics information, nutritional information, images, ingredients, etc.) about your products, digital exchange of orders, invoices, shipping advice, or advanced traceability across the entire supply chain. Digital exchange of standardised data provides a faster and safer supply chain – bringing with it great savings.  

Whether it's sharing basic data about your products with your customers, or documenting your products' climate footprint through transparency in your supply chain, standardized data sharing will be your strongest tool for success.  

The barcode

It's hard to imagine a world without barcodes; the familiar combinations of thick and thin black lines on a white background. Regardless if you are in a supermarket, a warehouse, a hospital, an airport, or if you are reading a magazine or watching an advertisement – barcodes are all around us and make more things than you think run smoothly.

In fact, the barcode is often considered one of the most important technological inventions of the 20th century – despite the fact that very few have thought about what a barcode is and why they work so well for what they need to do.

The History of the Barcode

What most people know about barcodes can often be boiled down to the fact that they consist of a series of thick and thin lines on a white background. With this in mind, it may not surprise you that the inspiration for the barcode came from the Morse code – usually used with sound or light, but on paper expressed with dots and horizontal lines.

The story goes that in the late 1940s, during their studies, Norman Joseph Woodland and Bernard Silver encountered a problem from a pressured supermarket manager: how could you reduce the queue at the supermarket while making it easier to check inventory status?

The breakthrough came in 1949, when Woodland sat on a beach chair on Miami Beach and made "morse dots" in the sand with his fingers. For some reason, which he himself was not aware of, he pulled his hand and turned the dots into vertical lines – and the barcode as a concept was born.

After a few more years of development, Woodland and Silver had the patent approved in 1952 for the first actual barcode and barcode scanner.

The barcode fulfills its purpose

Woodland & Silver's invention worked in theory – and under highly controlled conditions – but was considered to be 20 years ahead of its time. The technology for an efficient, secure and accurate scanner, which was also in a compact form, simply did not exist at the time. Which is reflected quite well if we look at when the barcode was first used to solve the problem for which it was developed.  

In June 1974 , 22 years after the patent was granted, a barcode was first scanned on a product at an exit box, in a store in Troy, Ohio, in the United States. The barcode was a so-called Universal Product Code (UPC) barcode, which is still in use in North America, and was put on a packet of Wrigley's chewing gum.  

From this trembling first scan, there was no turning back. Over the next decades, barcodes found their way to virtually every process in any supply chain – products, boxes, components, pallets, containers, shelf labels, ID cards, letters, conveyor belts, etc.

So barcodes were here to stay.

Systems behind the lines

As the first pieces of chewing gum were scanned at the checkout counter in Ohio in 1974, it became evident that the barcode technology alone could not fulfill the dream of efficient and safe processes.

The technology itself was proven capable of streamlining a sea of processes in a supply chain, but what to do once barcodes became so widespread that barcodes were met applied and printed by other organizations? The fact that the lines could be scanned was one thing, but how did you ensure that the content could be understood and used, regardless of which party in the chain performed the scan?  

The answer had to be found in standards – standards for how the barcodes were built and designed, as well as how the content was composed – and a few years before the first supermarket scan, the Uniform Code Council (UCC) was founded, the first of the predecessors of GS1.

In 1974, representatives from 12 Western European countries gathered and founded the European Article Number Association (EAN), the last "half" of what would become GS1.

We are ready to help

If you have any questions about how you can use our standards and services in retail and foodservice, we recommend that you contact our trained consultants who are ready to guide you.

Member Service opening hours:

Monday to Thursday: 08:30 to 15:30
Friday: 09:00 to 15:00

+45 39 27 85 27

Or by email:

Jesper Kervin Franke
Senior Healthcare Specialist
+45 39 16 90 02
Mads Kibsgaard
Senior Sustainability and Business Developer
+45 39 16 90 08