Commissaries are run by DeCA (Defense Commissary Agency) and have been around since 1825. They were originally erected so officers could buy at-cost goods for themselves, then in 1841 officers could buy for their families. Enlisted personnel didn’t have commissary privileges until 1867!
Fast forward to present day; shopping eligibility has expanded beyond active duty service members, and commissaries are located all over the world. In the end it is still just a grocery store, but it isn’t available to the public.
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Who shops in commissaries? Plenty of people do! Families that live on that installation very likely do. Military families who live off-base probably shop there also. Retirees have access and can be found shopping at all hours.
good international food
What are the benefits? The most prominent benefit to shopping in a DeCA Commissary is that the groceries are tax-free. Name brand foods are represented well. They have good international food sections (example: Mexican, Italian, German, British, Japanese). Some product lines are surprisingly full (example: they carry almost. every. single. Bob’s Red Mill bagged grain or flour).
five percent surcharge
What are the negatives? While tax-free, there is a five percent surcharge (the surcharge acts as an internal tax because it pays for new stores, renovations, and employee salaries). Off-brand labels are not stocked. Most fresh produce is not organic. Some stores may not carry fresh fish. The baggers only work for tips, so if somebody bags your groceries you should tip them. If they also take everything out to your car with you, you REALLY SHOULD TIP. When I used to fill outbound carts and use a bagger’s help, I usually tipped $3 or $4 and didn’t receive glares. But now I carry out my own bags (no cart) and I still tip $1 to the bagger.
Mister Jupiter and I shop at the commissary depending on a variety of factors. It is not my number one grocery store. Why? Little fresh organic produce. But at least one commissary has a great little area for sipping coffee and clipping coupons! If I was a dedicated coupon-er, I would use this space often.
Also, I build a menu each week and I shop only for one-week’s worth of food at a time. Commissaries are mostly shelf-stable goods -as are most grocery stores- and I don’t buy much from the center aisles. Instead I shop primarily at Kroger or Dillons because they have more fresh organic foods, and excellent in-store brands that I prefer to buy.
Mister Jupiter (and many others) find that products are less expensive at the commissary, but this isn’t always true. Savings on meats are usually the most substantial, but I am picky about my grass-fed beef and non-conventional meats cost about the same in civilian grocery stores. Most (non-meat) things are usually $0.20–$1 more expensive on-base, because I can’t buy the store brand (like Kroger’s Simple Truth organic fire-roasted diced tomatoes). However there a few things I can only get at the commissary – including my favorite instant cocoa, various international foods, and surprisingly low prices on olive oil.
Ready for some comparison shopping (if you have the time)? Grab your coupon organizer, and a quick pen and paper for notes. I actually do take notes when I do my first grocery shopping rounds in a new town. I look for difficult to source foods, like jasmine brown rice and Zapp’s Voodoo chips. If I find a store that I really enjoy I will make aisle notes, because when I make my shopping list I prefer to build the list from entrance to exit. It takes a little extra time in the beginning, but it is super efficient when you start shopping when you walk in and finish on the way out. No back tracking needed. I’m usually finished in thirty minutes.
I was going out of my way
When I pointed this out to Mister, he stopped giving me crap for shopping at Dillons across town. He thought that I was avoiding the commissary because it was unfamiliar, but he quickly learned that I was going out of my way to provide healthier less-expensive foods for us. Bonus: when I shop in a civilian grocery store, I can enjoy fast moving lines. It’s -always- my luck that I need three things at the commissary, and I get in the “10 Items or Fewer” lane…behind someone who just cut me off with a loaded cart; clearly containing more than ten items. *silent groan*
Does your commissary have a good organic produce section, or does it lack something that you just love? Do you avoid any certain times or shopping days? Why?
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