ECN CoverE&C Commissary News

Editorial Comment — July 2018

Read the Label …

It wasn’t so long ago, just six years, that commissaries hit the $6 billion mark in sales for the first time since the year the Defense Commissary Agency was activated.

One could have said the oversight group responsible for commissaries had maintained, even enhanced, a very robust and workable recipe for DeCA in the 10 years since the previous sales low-water mark of 2002, the only year this century — until then — that sales dipped below $5 billion. The commissary system functioned on appropriations comparable to the amount it receives now, with the end of the troop surge and drawdown after 2010 taken into account.

But even as the remarkable commissary recipe was serving 90 million customers every year, an alternative stripped-down recipe was being rewritten and gussied up for introduction as “The Commissary 2020,” a.k.a. the “Transformation” recipe.

This transformation stew that was about to be foisted on the military community was basically another variation on a recipe to eliminate commissary funding that undoubtedly had been in a desk drawer in the Pentagon for decades, taken out and dusted off at every opportunity to pressure a vulnerable, malleable or ill-informed Congress into cost-savings under the guise of progress or “being more ‘businesslike.’”

That alternative recipe has yielded a concoction that is stripped of as many brands as possible in favor of private label, stripped of sufficient competitive variety, stripped of at-cost pricing, stripped of 30 percent overall savings and bargains, in favor of 20- 23 percent savings and variable pricing. Some would have stripped it of funding altogether if they could, but there would have been nothing left to serve.

With too many ingredients of the formerly successful commissary recipe now taken out — favorite beverages ... canned goods … HBC, vitamins, garbage bags … national-brand-name products known in every home — replaced with a private label hardly any commissary customers really wanted, one they didn’t categorically ask for, patrons are left with a bland stew that lacks the flavors they were pleased with and accustomed to. The result: declining satisfaction, declining savings and declining sales.

Just as in cooking, so it goes in retail: If you take away too many of the ingredients, you ruin the recipe!

A Reminder …

For those who may have already forgotten … the at-cost-plus commissary was non-pay compensation: a benefit, refined by more than a century of legislation, to deliver groceries and other sundries to military families at cost plus a surcharge for recapitalization and shrinkage. Plain and simple. A benefit.

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