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Retail: Understanding SKUs, UPCs, and Package IDs
Retail: Understanding SKUs, UPCs, and Package IDs

Learn the differences between SKUs, UPCs, and Package IDs

Ryker Daniel avatar
Written by Ryker Daniel
Updated over a week ago

For retail stores, Stock Keeping Units (SKUs) and Universal Product Codes (UPCs) are important identifiers for products. In the cannabis industry, Package IDs are also important, as they identify a specific lot or batch of a product, and are often related to a compliance ID in a state traceability system. For example, in states using the Metrc Traceability system, it’s common to use the Metrc tag ID as the Package ID.

Successfully employing these product identifiers can help you effectively manage your products and inventory. This includes managing inventory levels, scanning products at the register, and business reporting.

GrowFlow Retail supports all three of these identifiers. This article describes each, how they relate to each other, and how they can be used by retailers in the GrowFlow POS. For more information on how to apply and use SKUs, UPCs, and Package IDs in GrowFlow, please click here.

Universal Product Codes (UPCs)

UPC, short for Universal Product Code, is an identifier printed on retail product packaging to aid in identifying a particular item. The most common is UPC-A, which consists of two parts – the machine-readable barcode and the unique 12-digit number beneath it. UPC codes are placed on products by the manufacturer. Therefore, if multiple retailers sell the same product, it will have the same UPC code.

Stock Keeping Units (SKUs)

SKU is an identifier assigned to a product by a retailer. It is unique to that retailer. If a retailer has multiple stores, a product will have the same SKU in all stores. A best practice is for a retailer to develop a code or pattern for the SKU.

SKUs are typically 8 to 12 digits and are alphanumeric. For example, in the following SKU ED-GG012-16, the “ED” denotes the Edible product category, the "GG" indicates Grape Gummy, "012" is a reference to the manufacturer, and the final two digits “16” indicate a 16-ounce size. If a 32-ounce version of that product was available, it might have the SKU ED-GG012-32.

Retailers will often print the SKU as both text and as a barcode and place that label on the product.

Package IDs

In GrowFlow Retail, when a “package” or "lot" of a cannabis product is received via an incoming transfer, it must have a Package ID assigned to it. This is an identifier unique to that specific “package” of the product.

In many cases, such as in states using the Metrc traceability system, retailers will use the Metrc tag ID as the Package ID. Proper tracking of sales of product by Package ID is critical for staying in compliance with state compliance guidelines.

In the cannabis industry, the Package ID is printed on a label as a barcode or QR code that is affixed to the product. The Package ID is the primary identifier used when scanning products at checkout or when taking inventory.




Package ID

Unique inside a retail organization.

Universally unique.

Unique to a specific "package" or “lot” of a product.

Follows a code/pattern determined by the retailer.

Follows code set by a licensing organization (GS1) to ensure global interoperability and consistency.

In the cannabis industry, a best practice is to use a traceability ID, such as the Metrc tag ID.

Otherwise, follows a code/pattern determined by the supplier or retailer.

Alphanumeric, can be any length. A best practice is to adopt a SKU framework. Typically 8 to 12 digits.

12 digits, numeric only (for UPC-A).

Alphanumeric, can be any length.

Printed as alphanumeric, sometimes with a scannable barcode or QR code.

Always printed as a scannable barcode.

Printed as alphanumeric and with a scannable barcode or QR code.

Let's look at an example...

Acme Manufacturing manufacturers Grape Gummy edibles in 16 oz. and 32 oz. versions. They have registered UPC codes for the products. Two retailers, Best Cannabis and Great Cannabis, buy the product through a distributor. Both have adopted a SKU code/pattern and assigned the products a SKU. They each receive two shipments (packages) of each product one week apart. Each package has a Metrc tag ID which they use as the Package ID.

  • The UPC code for each product is the same at both retailers.

  • Each retailer has its own SKU code/pattern, which indicates the product. It is the same for all shipments of the product they receive.

  • Each unique “package” of the product has a unique Package ID, in this case, the Metrc tag ID.

Why Should a Retailer Use a SKU or UPC

  • When a manufacturer provides a UPC for a product, adding the UPC to the Product profile will improve the inventory management and reporting process.

  • Using SKUs enable retailers to better manage their inventory. Adopting an appropriate SKU code/pattern can make it easier for employees and customers to identify products.

  • SKUs and UPCs provide an efficient way to look up prices, check inventory and replenish inventory.

  • Package IDs are required for appropriate traceability of cannabis products.

GrowFlow Clients Using Both GrowFlow Wholesale and Retail

Both GrowFlow Wholesale and Retail support SKUs and UPCs. For companies that are vertically integrated and use both, implementing SKUs and/or UPCs enhances the ability of the two systems to share product data between them. For example, on an incoming transfer in Retail, the product name and other attributes of the package can be auto-populated from the Wholesale platform during the transfer process saving inventory managers' time and reducing errors.


  • Should I have barcodes on my product for all three identifiers, SKU, UPC, and Package ID?

    • If the product has a UPC code, the barcode will be on the package.

    • In the cannabis industry, you must have a Package ID, with an associated barcode or QR Code, and this is the barcode that you should use when scanning the product.

    • It’s a best practice to have the SKU as text on the product (on the package label), but there are pros and cons to printing the SKU barcode on the label.\

      • A benefit to printing the SKU as a barcode is it can be used to look up the price or available inventory.

      • A potential challenge is that employees may not know which of the barcodes, SKU, Package ID, or UPC to scan.

    • GrowFlow Retail can be set up to scan only the Package ID, or to scan any of the three identifiers. Retailers should select a process that best supports their operational goals.

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