Military Families

Commissary Silent on Locations of Price Change Pilot Program

Commissary officials won't announce the locations of stores where they plan to run a pilot program in March to test new pricing of groceries, they said.

"Announcing the locations and/or specific handful of items would impact the results and could invite competitors to selectively price during the test period, which would affect outcomes," Kevin Robinson, a Defense Commissary Agency spokesman, said in a statement. "DeCA will maintain savings levels at their baselines at all test locations."

Officials had declined earlier this month to list the location of the stores until after lawmakers were briefed on the project. At the time, they said the test would begin March 1 and would result in raising or lowering prices on 1,000 to 1,400 items in about 10 stores across the system's regions.

The pilot program, known as "variable pricing," allows agency officials to raise and lower the price of goods against the cost of the same products off base while maintaining a regionally based savings percentage benchmark.

Those savings percentages are determined based on a series of market research surveys, including quarterly in-person comparisons. Shoppers can expect to see a savings of between 17.6 percent and 44.2 percent over civilian grocery stores dependent on location, officials said in late January.

Currently, products at the commissary are sold at-cost plus a 5-percent surcharge that pays for store upkeep and new construction. All other overhead costs are taxpayer funded.

The variable pricing program is a lynchpin part of the commissary system's larger congressionally directed effort to move away from their over $1 billion in annual taxpayer funding.

Through it and a series of other programs, including a plan to introduce private label or "generic" products in stores, lawmakers hope to make the system self-supporting.

Commissary officials and researchers, however, have warned that making the system entirely self-funded would eliminate the savings benefit for shoppers.

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at amy.bushatz@military.com.