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Defense Commissary Agency Looks To Enhance Services

Those unfamiliar with military culture may be surprised to learn that the Department of Defense has its own grocery store system for military bases. And in 2023, that system is being improved and reworked to expand commissary services and enhance them.

What’s Changing in the Defense Commissary Agency?

In 2022, the U.S. Secretary of Defense announced a plan to make the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) commissary system more competitive with retail grocery stores.

That might sound to some like DeCA wants to compete with commercial grocery profits, but instead, the goal is to actually lower the overall cost for those shopping at DeCA commissaries at military bases around the world.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced in 2022 that commissaries should provide a high amount of savings compared to civilian retailers.

Since that time use of DeCA commissaries has risen by nearly 20%.

Austin and others refer to the commissary system as “a non-pay compensation benefit to our servicemembers and their families through selling groceries at cost.” But there’s a problem.

Related: Commissary and Exchange Benefits: What You Need to Know

DeCA Variable Pricing

In 2016, the Department of Defense implemented a “variable pricing” structure, allowing the Defense Commissary Agency to raise grocery prices “to generate margins to offset its appropriation,” according to multiple sources. But that wound up raising costs for servicemembers at the commissary checkout line.

In 2021, the DoD raked in over $100 million from this practice, which some members of Congress view as wrong. In an open letter to the Defense Secretary, some of these lawmakers stated, “Our view is those dollars should remain with servicemembers” rather than going to DeCA.

What that basically means is there’s a move in DeCA to end variable pricing and return to a model closer to the “at-cost” option the commissary offered to its customers prior to 2016.

Getting commissary food costs down to a level closer to wholesale is an important benefit for military families, retirees, and surviving spouses.

New DeCA Director, New Pledges

When DeCA hired a new director in 2023, there was talk of expanding benefits such as commissary delivery services and improving existing locations, but it was tempered with the notion that DeCA must increase its sales to justify those upgrades.

Expanding and streamlining commissary plans including the delivery service Click2Go is a priority but it’s not the only one. There is also a need to upgrade or improve infrastructure such as the refrigeration systems in DeCA stores.

Military.com reports two examples of failing or damaged infrastructure in this area; one incident in California at a military base in Twentynine Palms, and another incident in Guam had Commissary employees scrambling.

Both incidents were directly related to local or regional weather issues, but these are both strong examples of the challenges DeCA faces in this area.

Related: Commissary and Exchange Benefits: What You Need To Know

What’s Ahead for DeCA?

DeCA officials want to streamline and improve Click2Go, the online commissary delivery app. The infrastructure issues above are also being addressed, but there is also a need to improve communication with DeCA customers.

Commissary access has changed a great deal in the last decade; millions of veterans who were formerly denied access to the commissary system now have access but don’t know.

DeCA is partnering with the VA and DoD to change this and raise awareness of commissary benefits and who qualifies for them.


About the author

Editor-in-Chief | + posts

Editor-in-Chief Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter/editor for Air Force Television News and the Pentagon Channel. His freelance work includes contract work for Motorola, VALoans.com, and Credit Karma. He is co-founder of Dim Art House in Springfield, Illinois, and spends his non-writing time as an abstract painter, independent publisher, and occasional filmmaker.