UPC - Yeah You Know Me: The Big Kahuna
Where did these delicious tubes of hypertension come from?
A person should never eat five-cent candies whilst sitting on the toilet.
Alas, that is exactly how this story starts.
UPC - Yeah You Know Me are special posts that explore my genuine curiosity about how products are made, what businesses actually own a product and where they are located. With no rhyme or reason, I will teach you at least one research technique along the way and each post will cover a slightly different angle.
My first post is on the Big Kahuna. If you’re curious, as I was, about where UPCs came from, read my post on it here.
What To Listen To While You Read
What (or who) is the Big Kahuna?
The Big Kahuna is a digestive tract-destroying, half a kilo of candies shoved into a plastic cone and sold in Canadian grocery stores, gas stations and confectioners. Not one to be trifled with, when you first make eye contact with the Big Kahuna, you do indeed gasp to yourself out of reflex: “That’s big. That’s a lot.”
Hefting one out of the rack, you immediately understand why it carries the namesake. It’s heavy. It’s intimidating. It feels like a challenge you should have trained for before you arrived with your children in tow. You accept. Willingly.
Now the thing with the Big Kahuna is that you’ve formed a relationship. There’s a new member in your family and while it may only be around for a few days, its impact will clearly be lasting.
And that brings us to the toilet.
It is why I am staring at the nearly empty cone in my hands, on the toilet, idly chewing a blue whale and pondering: where the fuck did this bad boy come from exactly? Who are you BK? And, perhaps the most important question of all…
Why am I eating these on the toilet?
The Hunt for the Big Kahuna
I have always been fascinated by products in my home. Even from a young age, if I didn’t have a comic book to read while I was spending some throne time, I would grab whatever products were nearby: shampoo, cleaning solution, the toilet paper package. You name it.
Then I would read the back, the label, the ingredients. With what little brain power was available to me at the time, I would frequently contemplate how this stuff was made. This was of course popularized by the amazing show How It’s Made on Discovery and How Stuff Works which is a fantastic website and podcast that you should go take a look at.
Anyway, this all tracks now. Me. A toilet. A package of candy whose size clearly was meant for a god and not a lowly mortal.
I wanted to figure out who made the Big Kahuna and see how far down the supply chain rabbit hole I could go in 30 minutes or less.
Alright. So I truly have never tried investigating a UPC before, nor had I learned how they work until writing this. So the first thing I did was just Google it.
What the heck? I back up and run it in a UPC lookup site or two. Nope. Nothing. At this point, I am really thinking that I have dreamed up an entire series of blog posts and I actually can’t get the first one started.
Shit. Pun intended.
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Backing Up to Move Forward
As always, I didn’t start out with a good question which is: where could these UPC codes come from and is there a central set of records? There is a single, accepted source for issuing and tracking UPCs and that is GS1, a not-for-profit organization that was set up back in the good old days of UPC invention. I run the UPC in there and at least we have some clue now:
Excellent, in the investigations and intelligence (and Bullshit Hunting) world, we have now discovered some selectors. Selectors are pieces of information that describe the subject of your research. So if you are Bullshit Hunting your own divorce currently, a selector would be your ex-partner’s date of birth or email address. If you are bullshit hunting a recent data breach at your organization then perhaps an IP address or DNS hostname is a selector.
Thinking in Graphs
In the above, we have discovered the following selectors:
Location: 9325 - 200 Street, Unit 200, Langley BC V1M 3A7
Corporate Name: Tosuta International Sales Ltd.
As you will learn in numerous posts here, and my upcoming book on the subject, a lot of Bullshit Hunting is simply drawing connections with selectors and then relentlessly researching them to death until you want to throw up. That’s a real rule, but it could also be the candy.
It is also why I teach Bullshit Hunters the old hacker’s adage from John Lambert, of Microsoft fame:
Defenders think in lists. Attackers think in graphs. As long as this is true, attackers win.
- John Lambert, Microsoft
Good researchers follow this same principle. If you think in graphs (dots connected to lines) you will form mental connections in your investigative work. You don’t need graphing software, or anything more than a paper and pen. Or you can build your own stringboard, start chain-smoking cigarettes, and eventually leap into Internet meme stardom. Whatever works for you, bud.
That meme never gets old, does it? In a future post, I will show you how we can use various tools to help draw these connections out for us or visualize them for a story without a crippling nicotine addiction and ten yards of yarn.
It truly doesn’t matter how, or what you put in your graphs but definitely don’t skip on tracking your selectors. It will always pay dividends for you in the long run. Now let’s get back to finding out who Tosuta International Sales Ltd. is!
The first place I head in 10/10 investigations when I want to look up a company is OpenCorporates.com. It has over 200 million records from scores of countries including good federal coverage in Canada where I am looking right now. So I ran a search for Tosuta International Sales Ltd. and it returned two results, one in Quebec and one in British Columbia. Beautiful!
I clicked on the result in British Columbia and sure enough, the address matches what we saw for a registration in the GS1 database. We could now update our network graph above to include this new connection and the new connection to the address we see in Montreal above.
While I don’t know a ton more about this company yet, I have learned a bit about the process of hunting down a product by its UPC, performed a few more reps in visualization work and discovered some new data sources.
Now we could begin to run down any number of research angles from this point forward, so I’ll leave you with a few ideas and one research challenge. Feel free to write me or comment below if you want me to keep running this down further:
Shipping Records - importers are always an interesting thing to look at, so if this is a candy company, there’s a good possibility that they are importing raw materials or finished goodies. Go read Rae Baker’s book “Deep Dive” for more tips and tricks on this.
Domain Research - hunting through the main domain of interest, reading all of the content, and taking notes on company history. Don’t skip this, particularly the “reading” part. Reading is important.
A Final Note
There are times in CSAM (Child Sexual Abuse Material) investigations, war crimes investigations or criminal investigations where there may only be a UPC code visible in a photo or video. It might be worth tracking it down next time, to see what company owns it, and where they operate and ship that product. Never know what it might lead you to!
How It’s Made - wikipedia
How Stuff Works - homepage
GS1 UPC Lookup - search page
John Lambert Github - github page
Justin’s Big Kahuna Graph - clicky clicky neat link
Flourish - homepage (thank you @fubits on Twitter!)
OpenCorporates - homepage
Deep Dive by Rae Baker - (Amazon affiliate link)