How the Produce Industry Evolved with the UPC Symbol

Man in red shirt holding box of fresh produce.The produce industry remained largely unaffected when the UPC symbol was introduced in 1973. The packer/growers did not want the additional expense of coding all the SKU’s, which are part of their industry and the wholesaler/retailers did not have the computer capacity to process all the many SKU’s as well.

When Did the Product Industry Adopt the UPC Symbol?

Over time, however, the needs of the wholesaler/retailers changed, and they needed to capture the inventory movement and sales, which were part of their everyday business.

The produce industry, lead by Produce Marketing Association ( and United Fresh Produce Association (, embraced this first change in 1990 when they purchased a UCC Company Prefix #0.33383.

This allowed the smaller packer/growers to use it, along with a standard set of 5 digit Generic Product Descriptions (some 1500+ at last count) that were item specific.

See the following examples:

Prefix        Generic    Check          Generic Product Description       Location

Item #      Character

#0.33383  45031      5                 Leafy Vegetables Watercress          Canada

#0.33383  70201     8                 Leafy Vegetables Beet Greens         All areas

#0.33383  70212     4                 Leafy Vegetables Watercress            All Areas

#0.33383  70215     5                  Leafy Vegetables Kohlrabi Red       All Areas

This worked well, until the retailers wanted more specificity in who they bought from and what they bough from that vendor.

More Change

In late 2019, PMA and CPMA (Canadian Produce Marketing Association) announced the start of the sunsetting of the Generic UPC by longer issuing new Generic Item Numbers and associated Generic Product Descriptions. The reason for this is that the Generic UPC’s do not support category management and cannot identify the brand owner during a traceback investigation.

You can read a further clarification on this subject at

I want to thank Ed Treacy, V.P. Supply chain an Sustainability, PMA, for his assistance in clarifying this subject.

Questions/comments? Contact me today!

Ted Schultze

Prefix-xchange, Inc./President

“The Bar Code Doctor™”