Sunrise 2027: Adding a new dimension to barcodes (the rise of 2D codes)

Friday, February 16th, 2024

Sunrise 2027: Adding a new dimension to barcodes
The rise of 2D codes


Food packaging is expected to contain more information as the industry evolves. With the traditional 1D barcode, that is not possible. Enter the 2D code, the key to countless benefits for the entire supply chain from the manufacturer to the consumer. A forward-thinking initiative has set a date to accept 2D barcodes at points-of-sale worldwide — Sunrise 2027. Audrey Yow speaks to Wipotec experts who are passionate about driving the transition from 1D to 2D codes. Wipotec is a global leader in product
control and inspection systems for the food industry.


Alberto Gómez Wipotec Marketing Manager for Southeast Asia | Sven Rissel General Manager for Wipotec Singapore | Thomas Krämer Wipotec Global Account Manager Product Marking


Necessity fuels innovation

The one-dimensional (1D) barcode was borne from a young graduate drawing Morse code in the sand while relaxing on Miami Beach. After going through a few rounds of evolution, the 1D barcode was first scanned on Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit gum in 1974 (the pack of gum and the receipt are now on display in the Smithsonian Institution). At a time where customer checkouts were leading to very long queues, and stocktaking was an arduous process, the invention of the barcode was revolutionary.


1D barcodes like the EAN and UPC have been an integral part of retail. But industry needs are changing. Back then, the desire for efficient customer checkouts and stocktaking fuelled the creation of the classic barcode. Today, the rise of two-dimensional (2D) codes is driven by the demand for product information transparency and traceability.


2D barcodes are also known as ‘Quick Response’ or ‘QR’ codes. A QR code is a 2D barcode that’s an instant gateway to a wealth of information. Likened to fingerprints of a product, these black-and-white square patterns has a myriad of uses. From making payments to checking into places and accessing websites, the 2D code is now indispensable for many businesses.


The 2D code was initially created for tracking automotive parts during manufacturing processes at Denso Wave, a subsidiary of the Toyota Group. Traditional barcodes have limitations in terms of data capacity and speed of scanning, and a more efficient system was needed.


2D codes are designed to store more information in a smaller space that can be scanned quickly. They can encode large amounts of data, making them suitable for various applications beyond their initial purpose for tracking the production of automotive parts.


2D codes will transform the retail sector.2D codes will transform the retail sector.


Why is there a push to transition from traditional 1D codes to 2D codes?

Sven Rissel, General Manager for Wipotec Singapore, says that there are many compelling reasons for the change: “2D codes include more than just product ID and pricing details. Being very compact, it leaves additional room on the packaging for branding and design. Companies can play around with content that’s tailored to their target audience, enhancing customer experience and engagement. From the operations side, having a transparent overview of the entire supply chain allows quicker and easier management of product recalls, protection against counterfeiting, and more. It’s as if the old EAN/UPC code had entered the multiverse and AI era!”


Efficiency and quality control

Efficiency leads to cost savings and reduced wastage, which also means greater sustainability for manufacturing processes. 2D codes enable accurate and rapid tracking of inventory. Each product can have a unique 2D code that can be scanned at any point in the supply chain. This enables businesses to retrieve real-time data about crucial information such as the remaining shelf-life and the inventory levels. Quality control can be better enforced with 2D codes containing information such as inspection dates and other crucial product details. Staff can simply scan the codes to verify that the products meet the required standards.


Transparency and traceability

Consumer Goods Technology found that people want to know more about a brand before making a purchase. A study published in Sustainable Production and Consumption has also shown that 80% of consumers expressed a desire for greater awareness of a product. The key factors motivating purchase decisions include quality, health, and convenience. Details such as allergens, ingredient sources, and nutrition information can be made accessible to build greater trust in your products.


Additionally, a joint study by McKinsey and NielsenIQ found that more than 60% of respondents are willing to pay more for sustainable packaging. Businesses can use the 2D codes to provide information about their sustainable policies to boost consumer support.


Food safety, quality and authenticity

The World Health Organization reports that an average of 1,600,000 people get sick from unsafe food each day, and a few hundred children under five years of age die due to preventable foodborne diseases daily. These sobering statistics point to an urgent need for enhanced safety processes, which 2D codes can provide. With improved inventory tracking, manufacturers can act faster to remove contaminated products from the supply chain. Even if the tainted products have been bought off the shelves, consumers can use the 2D codes to check whether their purchases have been affected. This also allows consumers to verify the origin and authenticity of a product via an embedded serial number.


Better engagement with consumers

Alberto Gómez, Wipotec Marketing Manager for Southeast Asia, agrees that 2D codes can be used for digital marketing as a powerful tool for brand engagement. Brands that have a successful brand awareness campaign will be more likely to connect with consumers on an emotional level, creating a sense of loyalty and attachment that influence purchasing decisions.


Coca-Cola, for example, let cricket fans in India access personalised favourite moments from the ICC T20 Cricket World Cup by scanning a QR code on their product label. Those footages were recorded through a camera installed on a wicket. Any cricket fan with a smartphone could easily take a front-row seat at the games even though they weren’t physically there. This combination of immersive and personalised experience had a profound impact on consumer engagement and retail sales for the beverage giant.


Embracing smart packaging amidst increasing digital connectivity

Today’s consumers are increasingly digitally connected. This is prompting businesses to adapt their strategies accordingly. By connecting to the digital world, packaging becomes interactive. Manufacturers can update content dynamically, ensuring that product information remains relevant and current throughout the product’s lifecycle. As code usage increases, manufacturers are moving to reduce pre-printed information and provide content digitally instead.


Wipotec’s collaboration with GS1

Wipotec is collaborating with GS1 as solution providers in response to these trends. GS1 is a global, not-for-profit organisation that develops and maintains standards for the identification, communication, and sharing of information about products, services, and locations.


One special feature of 2D code is the Digital Link, which provides an automatic redirect to a predefined URL. Manufacturers can change the digital content without affecting the printed packaging. While consumers at the point of sale simply scan a QR-code with their smartphone, backend staff use a different equipment or app that can show different information, depending on the settings. Employees in logistics, for example, can retrieve the internal lot number they need to prepare a parcel. In retail, the same 2D-code can take a customer to a site pre-set by the manufacturer, such as a marketing campaign site or a registration page for an event. The Digital Link gives you greater opportunities to interact with your customers. Via the code, they can get in touch with customer support, send feedback or create a review.


According to the GS1 website, where a URL typically points to a single, specific website, a GS1 Digital Link enables connections to all types of business-to-business and business-to-consumer information. When a QR code or NFC tag is added to a product, using the GS1 standard means we are not only providing a URL for people to scan, we are also carrying GS1 identifiers — the same identifiers relied upon throughout industry — and following a non-proprietary, no vendor-lock system. This means the brand owner remains in complete control but can still link to any number of information sources, all from one symbol, saving space and improving efficiency.


In the same vein, Thomas Krämer, Global Account Manager Product Marking at Wipotec, recently led a project for Coca-Cola Latin America, which won the prestigious GS1 Brasil Automation Award in the category of Sustainability. This award is a testament to outstanding contributions in the pursuit of eco-friendly practices. Coca-Cola has achieved this by introducing the innovative system ‘refPET’ for the circular economy, which increases the use of refillable PET bottles. For that specific purpose, Wipotec developed a tailored ‘mark and verify’ solution to serialise a QR code with a GS1 Digital Link standard that can easily be scanned by any smartphone. This code is applied during the bottle manufacturing process. However, laser marking on a PET bottle presents different challenges from printing on a folding box. “Thanks to the extremely close collaboration and the trust that our customers placed in us, we were able to push the boundaries of what is technologically possible,” states Thomas Krämer. “What makes me even happier is that with this innovation, we make a valuable contribution to a sustainable future.”


Alfeu Junior, specialist for new technologies at Coca-Cola Latin America, added, “This took a lot of extra development by Wipotec’s technical team, but it resulted in even better specifications than the original.”


Alfeu Jr. from Coca-Cola, and Marcelo Cozac from Wipotec’s partner MCPack, accepting the prestigious GS1 Brasil Automation Award in the category of Sustainability onstage.Alfeu Jr. from Coca-Cola, and Marcelo Cozac from Wipotec’s partner MCPack, accepting the prestigious GS1 Brasil Automation Award in the category of Sustainability onstage.


What’s happening right now to facilitate the push towards 2D codes?

Sunrise 2027

Sunrise 2027 was proposed by GS1 to replace the traditional barcode with QR codes by 2027. The goal is to see that most or all retail products will be scanned at the checkout using 2D codes by 2027.


At this point, there isn’t any law or policy that’s making it mandatory to switch from 1D codes to 2D ones. But prevailing trends are naturally pushing manufacturers to do so. In future, products that only support the traditional 1D code may be less accessible.


Assessing readiness to embrace 2D codes

A VDC report revealed that in 2021, more than 60% of retailers already own the necessary equipment for utilising 2D codes. By 2025, it is estimated that nine out of 10 retail stores will be able to process 2D codes, while devices for scanning 1D barcodes will decrease by one-fifth over the same period. At the same time, most consumers would be able to scan 2D codes on their own just by using their smartphones while shopping or paying for purchases.


It may be ambitious to expect global support for 2D codes by 2027. Adoption of new technologies takes time, resources and coordination. But Wipotec believes that global efforts are underway to ensure a smooth transition to 2D codes. This will increase the possibility of having worldwide support for 2D codes by 2027.


Is new equipment required?

The short answer is yes. Continuous inkjet printers are currently the most commonly used for in-line printing on food packaging, but they cannot guarantee the required quality for 2D codes, which rely on the precise arrangement of small squares or dots to encode information. Without the right resolution and contrast, the codes will not be readable across the entire supply chain. Some manufacturers use separate devices to inspect the quality of 2D codes printed by inkjet printers. Additionally, switching the settings for different product packaging can be problematic due to the software not being standardised.


Implementing 2D codes into the existing production processes will involve investments in infrastructure, equipment and staff training. But the benefits will eventually overtake the initial costs of investment.


Sven explains: “It is important to note that the 2D codes will be printed in the packaging line since it contains batch-specific data. The 1D code, on the other hand, is typically pre-printed on the packaging. This change in the printing process will ensure accurate and up-to-date information on each product, fulfilling the need for traceability and meeting regulatory requirements.”


2D codes fit into the packaging design in an extremely space-efficient way — less than 0.2 x 0.2 in or 5 x 5 mm is already sufficient. Wipotec has globally led the introduction of this technology in other industries, like pharmaceutical, and developed their 'mark and verify' solution for the food industry to tackle the challenges of implementing 2D codes.2D codes fit into the packaging design in an extremely space-efficient way — less than 0.2 x 0.2 in or 5 x 5 mm is already sufficient. Wipotec has globally led the introduction of this technology in other industries, like pharmaceutical, and developed their ‘mark and verify’ solution for the food industry to tackle the challenges of implementing 2D codes.


Only fully integrated, flexible, and tested 'mark and verify' systems will guarantee successful implementations in food production lines.Only fully integrated, flexible, and tested ‘mark and verify’ systems will guarantee successful implementations in food production lines.


The Traceable Quality System

With Wipotec’s Traceable Quality System, each installation can be expanded with several modules and tailored for the appropriate application. For example, printers that can apply 2D codes will be placed either at the top or bottom of the existing system, before or after the weighing area, and on one or more sides. A high-resolution camera then verifies the data that has just been added to discard faulty products immediately. These functions are perfectly synchronised and can be easily controlled via a central user interface. There are options for new additions to the system if there is a need to enhance the performance of your equipment.


In maximum configuration, a single machine covers all end-of-line process steps. Regardless of the scope, all modules are fully integrated. Operators control all functions via the central touch display. The basic configuration is reduced to the essential modules: Weighing, printing, and checking.


Alberto explains: “Our technology has been running for decades at our customers’ production lines all across the globe, with outstanding precision and reliability, minimum maintenance, and excellent total cost of ownership (TOC). So we are in a good position to help Southeast Asian food manufacturers take their products to the next level of quality and safety.”


Benefits of 2D codes adoption for all stakeholders of retail


What does the future hold for 2D codes in the food industry? 

Will there be problems and challenges ahead?

To scan the 2D codes, retail stores need specialised scanning equipment and consumers have to install apps in their smart devices. While such technology might not be easily available to certain segments, the increasing prevalence of smart devices and technological advancement will eventually make 2D code scanning more accessible.


There is also concern about scanning malicious 2D codes that can lead to financial losses, devices getting hacked, or identity theft. This, however, is not specific to the food & beverage industry. From banking to online shopping activities, it is a real issue that the world has to grapple with in exchange for digital connectivity.


As the marketing manager for Wipotec’s Southeast Asian region, Alberto understands that “with every change comes a little bit of resistance and friction, but in this case, the benefits of adopting 2D codes make any potential barrier appear ridiculous”. Furthermore, Wipotec has long had successful experiences with other industries in these coding solutions, and Alberto is confident that this will help pave the way for a smooth transition to 2D codes.


What lies beyond the 2D code?

The transition from 1D to 2D barcodes goes beyond mere technological advancement. It indicates a change in how consumers interact with products and how businesses function in a more competitive market.


To navigate the dynamic and interconnected future of retail successfully, it is crucial to embrace this innovation, foster collaboration across industries, and persistently explore new opportunities.


Alberto concludes: “Although 2D codes will be keeping us busy in the next few years, R&D is in our DNA and we cannot avoid constantly pursuing innovation. We are more than ready for future challenges.”


Wipotec: Modularity and depth of integration is keyModularity and depth of integration is key when it comes to smoothly adapting production lines from 1D to 2D codes. Systems can be expanded with additional functionalities, like labelers or completeness checks (checkweigher module).


Wipotec is globally known as a pioneer in the field of checkweighing, as evidenced by them owning the patent for the first ever Electro-Magnetic Force Restoration (EMFR) weigh cell. Thirty years on, Wipotec has expanded to include mark and verify systems, X-ray and optical inspection solutions in their portfolio — the absolute critical control points in any food production line.

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