Commissary officials are lowering prices on popular items and attacking the problem of poorly stocked shelves as part of a nationwide effort to bring military customers back into their stores. Discounted shopping is the big benefit for qualified shoppers. The Defense Commissary Agency wants to regain its customers’ trust as it deals with a 20 percent decline in sales over the last five years.
Interim Agency Director Robert Bianchi gave an example of customers seeing individual items such as bananas priced higher in a commissary than a civilian store. That leaves the customer with an impression that the rest of the commissary prices are just as high, even though shopping there should, on average, save them 23.7 percent.
“Hopefully ... we’ll tamp down some of that perception (commissary customers) may have about some of our pricing,” Bianchi said.
One change customers will notice right away is bright orange “YES!” labels and signs that highlight reduced prices on about 100 types of items frequently bought by commissary shoppers. “YES” is short for Your Everyday Savings. With different brands and sizes covered, that means deals on about 500 items such as baby food, pet food, bottled water, toilet tissue, nutritional shakes, potato chips and other snacks, plus flavored iced teas, pasta, cheese, yogurt, cereal, coffee and more.
Plans call for an expanded selection of natural and organic items, and officials are considering offering more meal kits and prepared-food options for shopper convenience.
There’s also another 100 private-label commissary-brand products on the way. The 500 items available now under the year-old “YES” program have accounted for $40 million in sales, Bianchi said.
Over the last year, commissary officials have been implementing a new pricing program that allows them to mark items up or down rather than sell them at cost (plus a 5 percent surcharge for overhead), as they did for decades. Some defense officials have sought for years to reduce the amount of taxpayer dollars that go to commissary operations, about $1.3 billion a year. By law, variable pricing can help defray those dollars so long as the system maintains an overall level of savings of 23.7 percent when compared with civilian grocers.
Coming soon: Beer and wine. “The availability of beer and wine at military commissary stores will increase customer satisfaction and convenience, and align with common commercial grocery store practices,” said Robert Wilkie, DoD’s undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, in a recent memo quoted by Military Times. Commissary alcohol prices will be comparable to those at military exchanges, he said. Wilkie, a Fayetteville native, was recently named by the president to become Secretary of Veterans Affairs.