Study: 30 Percent Savings at Commissary? Um, No.

Results of a mostly annual survey conducted by the commissary system has shown that shoppers annually save about 30 percent by shopping at the commissary instead of civilian stores. And now a new, long-awaited study says what many patrons have long suspected -- that 30 percent is not actually accurate.

Instead, they say, the savings is between 16 and 21 percent, depending on where you are shopping. At the lowest-priced near-by competitor they sampled, the savings averaged 16 percent. At the second-lowest, it averaged 21 percent. The lowest priced store, the report says, was most often Walmart.

The devil of the "30 percent" finding was always in the details. That survey compared several hundred identical items at both stores over a 26 week period. Pace salsa at the commissary, for example, was compared to Pace salsa at every store within a certain radius. Only items with UPC symbols were compared, so fresh meat packaged in store, for example, was left out. Generic and store-brands were also excluded because they didn't match what was at the commissary. A 30 percent average annual savings finding was the result.


The new study, conducted by the Boston Consulting Group on behalf of the Defense Department, did their survey differently. They visited 51 commissaries and their surrounding areas in March and April of this year. There they compared identical items as well as generic store brands to the "value" items at the commissary. They also included applicable taxes.

So what, specifically, did they find? Here are a few details:

- How much you save depends on where you live. That's kind of obvious, but it's good to note anyway. Shoppers at Fort Myer, Virginia, which is in the high cost of living D.C. region, saved between 20 and 25 percent by shopping at the commissary. Those at Fort Hood, Texas saved more like 10 to 15 percent.

- How much you save depends on what you're buying. Meat savings actually do approach that 30 percent mark -- if you buy meat at the commissary instead of the cheapest place in town, you are averaging a savings of about 29 percent. But it's all down hill from there. Dairy, the report says, is an average of 24 percent cheaper, frozen goods are 22 percent less, produce is 20 percent less, non-food items are 12 percent less, beverages are 8 percent less and general grocery items like mac and cheese (a category in which civilian stores carry the bulk of their generic brand) is only a 6 percent savings.

(Want one takeaway from that? Buy your meat at the commissary.)

Here's the thing you're probably not going to like: all of this savings data was used by the study's authors to fuel a much bigger recommendation. Instead of parading around the 30 percent number, they said, the commissary should embrace the 16 to 21 percent savings information ....

... And lawmakers should allow the commissary to raise or (in a few cases, like meat) lower their prices to reflect that average window of savings in every market by setting prices by region.

That means those of you shopping at Fort Meyer would probably see across the board price increases as costs go up to only be 16 to 21 percent less than those at the cheapest nearby civilian store. And shoppers at Fort Hood might actually see price decreases.

That proposal has a long way to go before actually being any kind of law or rule that we see happen. So for now you can just add it to the long parade of proposed ideas for changing the commissary system.

Want to know what else the report recommended? Go here to read the news story. 


Photo courtesy U.S. Air Force.

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