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The myth of the benefits of the commissary

Submitted by on Sunday, 16 January 2011 No Comment

The guys have an unfortunate addiction: Graham crackers and milk for breakfast. We could go through a box every three days, at $2 per “on sale” at the commissary.

I thought that price was bad until they briefly went to full price – $2.99 a box – this fall. I had some folks in civilian land do some checking around, and $2.99 did indeed turn out to be a bargain for the brand name. My  informal survey found store brands, however, for well under $2. I found them for $1.17 a box while we were on leave. Yes, I stocked up.

So much for the notion that shopping at the commissary is a huge bargain. It is, but only if you compare brand-name prices. If you look at prices for comparable products, no.

That’s why it amuses me that officials think they can raise commissary prices 5 percent across the board and still be competitive. Um, no.

People will leave your facility in droves if they have the option of other stores close by. I can’t site numbers, but anecdotally I can tell you that they already do on posts where there’s competition. Even though the nearest competition is 31 miles away from Fort Irwin, a lot of folks make monthly trips to warehouse stores because of the lack of selection and the relatively high prices on post.

And then there’s the 5 percent “service fee.” It’s supposed to pay for facility improvements, and it’s lower than sales tax in most states, they say. Except we’re in California, where there is no sales tax on food. That’s the case in most states.

Next tack on the tip for the baggers. Yes, it’s optional but when I know people are working for tips only I feel morally obligated.

It all adds up to higher costs for groceries because there are no store brands plus fees and tips that cost more than the sales tax people in most states don’t pay. Yet someone thinks raising prices 5 percent won’t hurt?

I get that the military has to make sacrifices in this economy. In the past year, we’ve seen sports fees skyrocket and library hours cut. I’m not wild about spending more money, but I understand.

What the budget whackers need to understand, though, is that just because a change makes sense on paper doesn’t mean it will in the real world. A 5 percent increase would make that 31-mile drive seem not nearly as inconvenient to even me.

Copyright 2011 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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