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Commissary benefit saves customers more money

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- At the self check-out counter, 1st Lt. Nathaniel Lee scans his items at the Vandenberg Commissary here May 19. A recent survey shows the commissary saves customers up to $3,400. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Antoinette Lyons)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- At the self check-out counter, 1st Lt. Nathaniel Lee scans his items at the Vandenberg Commissary here May 19. A recent survey shows the commissary saves customers up to $3,400. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Antoinette Lyons)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --  The Vandenberg Commissary has been in operation since 1958. The history of the commissary benefit stretches back to the establishment of the Army’s Subsistence Department in 1775. The department began selling items “at cost” from its warehouses to officers in 1825, to officers’ families in 1841, and to enlisted men in 1867. The last date is considered to be the birthday of the modern commissary system. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Antoinette Lyons)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The Vandenberg Commissary has been in operation since 1958. The history of the commissary benefit stretches back to the establishment of the Army’s Subsistence Department in 1775. The department began selling items “at cost” from its warehouses to officers in 1825, to officers’ families in 1841, and to enlisted men in 1867. The last date is considered to be the birthday of the modern commissary system. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Antoinette Lyons)

FORT LEE, Va. -- There's more pocket money for service members and their families when they shop consistently in the commissary - nearly $3,400 in fact for a family of four based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture survey that measures household grocery store purchases. 

Commissaries can save shoppers an average of more than 30 percent on their purchases compared to commercial stores. 

"Commissaries offer tremendous savings in the value aisle on club pack sizes," said Kristine Ainsworth, the store director of the Vandenberg Commissary, which has been in operation since 1958. "We sell top quality produce and meats. You can find everything you need under one roof and save time and gas by shopping in only one store."

There are even more reasons to shop at one store since commissaries accept manufacturer coupons, including cents-off manufacturer Internet coupons with a bar code. The commissary returns these coupons to the manufacturer for redemption. Commissaries also honor WIC and USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly called Food Stamps) benefits. The stores can't, however, accept other grocer's coupons.

"Commissaries sell products at cost plus a 5 percent surcharge, which covers the cost of building new stores and renovating old ones," Ms. Ainsworth said. "Commissaries make no profit on the sale of merchandise. For this reason, commissaries cannot accept other store's coupons."

Even without accepting coupons from other stores, the recent USDA survey shows that customers are still saving money by shopping at the commissary.

"In tough economic times our customers can always depend on their commissary benefit to help them make ends meet," said Philip E. Sakowitz Jr., Defense Commissary Agency director and chief executive officer. "This survey validates our motto that more than ever before 'The Commissary - It's Worth the Trip!' "

Each month, the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion calculates household purchases of grocery, meat and produce items. Once a year in October, DeCA's sales directorate examines the USDA's figures to determine monetary savings amounts for its customers in various family-sized units - a single military member, a couple, a family of three or four - based on the commissary's savings of more than 30 percent (see savings charts for 2006-08 at end of story): 

- A family of four saves nearly $3,400 ($3,353) annually based on spending an average of $898 per month or $10,783 annually. Previous savings calculated in October 2007 were about $3,100. 

- A family of three saves more than $2,600 ($2,625) annually based on spending an average of $703 per month or $8,442 annually. Previous savings in October 2007 were more than $2,400. 

- A couple saves more than $2,100 ($2,128) annually based on spending an average of $570 per month or $6,844 annually. Previous savings in October 2007 were more than $1,900. 

- A single service member saves nearly $1,200 ($1,161) annually based on spending an average of $311 per month or $3,733 annually. Previous savings in October 2007 were about $1,600.

Commissary savings percentages are calculated based on an annual market basket study. Procedures differ somewhat depending on geographic location. In the continental United States, DeCA captures prices through Nielsen's database of commissary and industry front end sales volume on more than 30,000 grocery items with a Universal Product Code. Pricing comparisons for meat and produce department items in the continental United States are accomplished through in-store audits at 30 randomly selected commissaries to compare them with commercial retail stores within commuting distance.

Outside the continental United States (Alaska, Hawaii, the Far East, Europe, Guam and Puerto Rico), DeCA conducts additional in-store audits, using a broad sample of grocery, meat and produce items. Savings percentages compare commissary prices, which include DeCA's 5-percent surcharge, to commercial prices with any applicable sales taxes included.

"We exist to deliver a commissary benefit to our authorized customers, the men and women and their families who sacrifice so much in the defense of this great nation," Mr. Sakowitz said. "The concept is simple: We sell items at cost, and if you shop regularly in a commissary for your grocery needs, you will save at least 30 percent or more. That's extra money you can apply to paying off credit card debt, your children's education or whatever else you need."

The following charts show savings amounts calculated from USDA figures published in October for 2006, 2007 and 2008:

2006

Family size                          Monthly cost     Annual cost     Annual savings
Single                                   $268.06              $3,216.67         $1,029.34
Married                                 $491.42              $5,897.04         $1,887.05
Married w/one child           $601.42               $7,217.03         $2,309.45
Married w/two children      $770.40               $9,244.80         $2,958.34


2007

Family size                          Monthly cost    Annual cost    Annual savings
Single                                   $282.76           $3,393.14        $1,058.66
Married                                 $518.39           $6,220.68        $1,940.88
Married w/one child           $641.56           $7,698.73        $2,402.05
Married w/two children      $821.75           $9,861.80        $3,076.68


2008

Family size                          Monthly cost     Annual cost     Annual savings
Single                                   $311.10            $3,733.20        $1,161.03
Married                                 $570.40            $6,844.80        $2,128.73
Married w/one child           $703.55            $8,442.63         $2,625.66
Married w/two children      $898.60            $10,783.20      $3,353.58