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Commissary Price Comparisons: Don't Try This At Home

One of the ways commissary officials plan to keep an eye on grocery prices near military bases is by sending real life humans to conduct commissary price comparisons once a quarter.

The goal of these comparisons is, in part, to make sure the commissary is meeting the savings benchmarks Congress requires. As the system moves into a program that raises and lowers grocery prices to be a certain percentage under those off base, knowing exactly how prices compare is really important.

Now, any savvy grocery shopper has compared prices between stores regardless of whether or not they use the commissary. It doesn't take a rocket scientist, a congressmen or a commissary expert to know that's just smart. 

But officials said what they are doing for their commissary price comparisons is a whole lot more complicated than just going outside the gate and seeing how the price of milk at the commissary stacks up against the price of milk at Walmart (or the price of taco dinner supplies, for that matter).

"The manual shop is labor intensive. It would be very difficult for a shopper to replicate the price comparison process on their own," Kevin Robinson, a spokesman for the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) said in a statement. "DeCA compares prices at multiple retailers near each commissary, over time. Because commercial retailers regularly change prices and offer promotions, a single comparison at a single point in time would only provide a limited snapshot in time of price. A valid savings calculation requires accurate price comparisons made at multiple locations, at multiple points and reported regionally over time."

In short: don't try comparing prices at home, kids. It won't work well and what you find probably won't match what commissary officials say they find. 

Why is that, exactly? 

"The savings methodology calculation is based on market data that provides information about shopper's preference in the commissary as compared to commercial grocers in the locale where they live," Robinson said. "The data not only reflects what they buy, it also reflects how much of a product they buy.  The inclusion of private label [what some people call "generics"] within the savings methodology provides a fair and accurate assessment of how our customers actually shop, as the majority of shoppers purchase a mix of branded and store brand items.  As an example, milk, eggs and cheese have a high private label [or non-brand name] penetration. Survey data indicates that our patrons would like or would purchase private label products if offered by DeCA."

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