Consumer Magazine Gives Military Commissaries High Marks

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(Defense Commissary Agency/Jessica Rouse)
(Defense Commissary Agency/Jessica Rouse)

Defense Department commissaries continue to rank highly on a Consumer Reports survey of the country's best supermarkets, on par with stores such as national wholesaler Costco and regional groceries Publix and Fareway.

A survey of 75,000 readers of the consumer magazine ranked Defense Commissary Agency stores in the top 10% of 96 grocery chains. DeCA stores received a score of 86, up a point from a similar 2017 survey.

Retail outlets are judged on cleanliness, prices, prepared food options, checkout speed, helpfulness of employees and the quality and selection of goods.

According to the report, commissaries received excellent reviews for pricing, cleanliness and offerings of international products. They also were noted for checkout speed, meat and poultry quality, and the quality of store brands.

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Commissaries received across-the-board "good" reviews for quality and selection of produce, prepared foods, prices of organic groceries and selection of health options. They fell short, receiving a "fair" rating, for availability of locally grown products.

According to the survey, issued in Consumer Reports' April 16 issue, Central Market, a Texas chain, was ranked No. 1 on the list, with a score of 91. Wegmans ranked second, scoring 90. Trader Joe's, another national chain, ranked 4th, tied with two other markets with a score of 87.

DeCA's score of 86 tied with Costco, Publix and Fareway, essentially placing it 5th on the list.

The report noted that commissaries offer competitive prices for the 38,000 items they sell, and "prices here are generally good year-round."

Rear Adm. Robert J. Bianchi, the DoD special assistant for commissary operations, said the praise of pricing makes sense, validating the commissaries' mission of offering savings to military families, veterans and retirees -- an average 24 percent compared with civilian grocery stores.

"It's no secret among our patrons that their commissaries deliver a valuable benefit, especially when it comes to product pricing," Bianchi said. "I'm quite proud of the DeCA team for achieving these results."

More than 75,000 readers responded to the Consumer Reports survey, which included their average scoring on stores' cleanliness, competitiveness of pricing, fresh-store prepared foods, staff courtesy, checkout speed, produce quality and variety, meats/poultry quality, store brand quality, selection of healthy options, prices of organic options, selection of locally produced products, and available variety of international and multicultural products.

In a 2017 survey of 60,000 Consumer Reports readers about their impressions of grocery stores, Wegmans was No. 1, with a score of 89, followed by Market Basket, Trader Joe's and Publix, which all received scores of 86. Commissaries, with a readers score of 85, tied for third along with Fareway and Costco.

In 2017, Walmart Superstores were ranked at the bottom of the Consumer Reports list, with a score of 66. Walmart was ranked second from the bottom on 2019's list with a score of 70; the supermarket with the worst Consumer Reports reader reviews this year was Key Food.

Bianchi pointed out that the commissary continues to expand its offerings, including a continued rollout of an online ordering and curbside pickup program called CLICK2GO at some stores and discount products under the commissary brands Freedom's Choice and HomeBase.

"Although we enjoy the publicity from this survey, we are not standing still on our merits," he said. "Commissaries will continue to improve and evolve so that they can deliver the best possible benefit for our patrons. That's why we exist."

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @patriciakime.

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