Soldiers, retirees and family members are not the only ones benefiting from installation commissaries, said Rick Brink, Defense Commissary Agency public-affairs specialist.
Although commissaries’ customers benefit from lower costs for their food bills, Brink said military communities also benefit from the jobs commissaries provide and their contracts with food distributors.
Brink said total sales at Fort Stewart’s commissary in fiscal year 2013 were $38,263,292, and total transactions last year were 674,339. He quickly explained that transactions are not the same as a customer count, but instead represent each time a customer pays for his or her order during a week, month or year.
“While we don’t know the number of customers, we do know the number of commissary-eligible people who reside in a 20-mile radius of the commissary — the pool of possible customers,” he said. “For this reason, we say the (Fort Stewart) commissary serves an area with about 66,000 commissary-eligible residents within 20 miles of the store.”
He said Fort Stewart’s commissary ranked 55th in sales among DeCA’s 245 commissaries during FY 2013. Georgia’s top-selling commissary was Fort Benning, which ranked 12th last year with $64,149,642 in total sales.
According to www.commissaries.com, DeCA’s economic impact by state for calendar year 2012 shows military commissaries in Georgia employed 584 people, which represented a total payroll of $19,425,319 and total contract value of $72,473,434.
Fort Stewart has 75 baggers and 76 paid employees, Brink said, explaining that baggers work for tips only and are not counted as paid employees.
Brinks said even many of their long-time customers don’t realize that their commissary and Army and Air Force Exchange Service are two separate service benefits. He said AAFES is a non-appropriated funds enterprise, while DeCA is an appropriated-funds activity that is required by law to sell items at prices set just high enough to recover the cost for the item. No profit or overhead is factored into the price of the item. Brinks then reiterated that commissary pricing procedures adhere “rigorously” to legislative requirements.
He said customers often ask about the surcharge added to the total amount with each transaction. He said the surcharge, a 5 percent fee applied to the total value of each customer purchase, is used to fund the construction of new stores and equipment for renovating stores. Brinks added that the surcharge also has a legislative mandate. It was established by Congress in 1952. The surcharge has been 5 percent since 1983.
According to a Jan. 22 article on www.military.com, the Pentagon is proposing to drastically cut commissaries’ budgets, which could lead to closing stores at stateside installations or raising the surcharge to defer higher costs. Brinks said he was not able to comment about that article, except to say that no decision has been made to cut this vital military benefit.
Brink said commissaries are an important part of the military communities, both for those directly connected to the military as well as the surrounding community.
“The commissary provides patron savings of over 30 percent compared to civilian supermarkets,” he said. “Patrons who consistently use the commissary save nearly $4,500 per year. For an average family of four, (that’s) over $2,800. For a couple, (it’s) more than $1,500.”