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Commissaries can help shoppers offset rising food costs

Jun. 12, 2008 - 11:45AM   |   Last Updated: Jun. 12, 2008 - 11:45AM  |  
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Have you shopped at your commissary lately?

The rising cost of fuel affects our wallets and pocketbooks in a lot of ways. We feel the increase in the price of gas at the pump every week, but it's also helping to drive up food prices, because it costs more to get that can of peas or gallon of milk from manufacturers' plants to grocery store shelves.

According to the latest monthly update of the Labor Department's Consumer Price Index, announced May 14, the average cost of food and beverages has increased by 5 percent in the last year. Prices for bread were 14.1 percent more than they were at the end of April 2007, and prices for dairy products were up 13.5 percent.

In commissaries, prices have risen, but not by as much about 2.1 percent overall, said Randy Chandler, director of sales for the Defense Commissary Agency.

If you're looking for ways to squeeze more out of your paycheck, consider cutting out some of those supermarket trips and making the most of your commissary.

Many people don't live close to a commissary, so you have to decide whether it's worth the drive in terms of both gas and time. Let's say you live 25 miles from the commissary, you're paying $4.05 a gallon for gas, and your car gets 25 miles to the gallon. Driving to and from the commissary would be a 50-mile trip and would cost you about $8.10 in gas.

In contrast, you go to your local grocery store that's three miles away: Six miles round trip, 97 cents' worth of gas.

You're paying roughly $7.13 more for gas by going to the commissary. But you have to weigh that against how much you pay for the groceries.

On average, commissary shoppers save 31.9 percent compared with shoppers in civilian grocery stores. That means $100 worth of groceries outside the gate would cost about $68 at the commissary.

The savings are based on a comparison done across the country, so your savings may vary.

But no matter where you are, the law requires commissaries to sell products at cost what they pay to buy it from the manufacturer or distributor. Unlike civilian grocery stores, commissaries never mark up prices.

You can easily check how much you save in your local commissary by comparing costs for some items you regularly buy.

Make sure you're comparing the unit price. For example, if you're comparing the cost of a 32-ounce can of peas with a 16-ounce can, divide the cost of each can by the number of ounces to determine the price per ounce.

There are other reasons to shop at commissaries, too food safety, for example. In addition to various other rigorous inspection and food-safety steps, commissaries employ medical food inspectors from the Army Veterinary Command and Air Force Public Health. They also take product recall precautions a step further than most commercial grocery stores.

When a recall is announced, commissary personnel pull the items from the sales area to ensure they are not sold, like commercial stores do. But commissaries take an extra precaution, called a Universal Product Code "lockout," which blocks an entire UPC at the register; a recalled product scanned at the register would prompt a flag indicating that the item is not for sale.

‘Green' bags

Military shoppers like taking steps to help the environment, as shown by the success of the commissary's initiative to encourage customers to use reusable bags. Customers have bought more than 1 million reusable bags since they were introduced in October.

The bags cost 70 cents each, are made of sturdy mesh that can hold up to 30 pounds of groceries and are machine-washable.

Commissary officials said the initiative is saving the stores money, too, reducing their costs to buy disposable bags.

The Army and Air Force Exchange Service is becoming green as well, with reusable mesh bags expected to be in stores worldwide in June. The AAFES bags, which can carry up to 35 pounds, include a small shopping bag and wine bag for 99 cents each, a large shopping bag for $1.49 and a thermal bag for $1.99.

Navy exchanges sell reusable bags for 99 cents and offer a zippered insulated version for $1.99. They've been in stores since late winter.

You don't have to buy a "green" bag to help out the environment you can always bring your own clean, sturdy paper or plastic bags to the store to reuse.

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