COVID-19 has pushed some commissary initiatives to the back of the shelf, including the test of whether to expand the sales of beer and wine in these grocery stores

There are no plans at the moment to expand the beer and wine pilot test that’s been in place in 12 commissaries for two years. They’ve put a limited assortment of the libations in the stores, using a limited amount of space so as not to displace other important items.

Officials are conducting an analysis to determine whether it’s a smart business decision to expand the sales, said Rob Bianchi, the interim director of the Defense Commissary Agency who is leaving that position after 33 months. He’s continuing in his position as CEO of the Navy Exchange Service Command, a position he held simulateously with the DeCA director one.

“For the last six months, we’ve been focusing on keeping our stores open, implementing sanitation, getting products, toilet paper, sanitizer and that kind of stuff,” Bianchi said.

“At this point I believe we have more pressing needs we have to focus on, and this analysis will reveal itself in due course.”

Customers have bought about $2.5 million worth of beer and wine during those two years, but commissary officials haven’t had a lot of customer reaction, either positive or negative, said Bianchi. Those sales have stayed relatively flat: In August, 2019, at the end of the first year, those 12 commissaries had sold about $1.1 million worth of beer and wine.

The idea of beer and wine in commissaries is clearly considered as a convenience for customers, as many commercial grocery stores stock a variety of selections of those libations. On military bases, there are other stores such as package stores where larger selections of libations are available to customers.

But there’s a space issue, too. “I didn’t take diapers off the shelves so I could put beer in there,” he said. “In many locations, I’m already stretched for space, especially as food preferences evolve in all our patrons,” which means adding choices such as gluten-free foods.

“Commissaries were created to provide food to our military members and families. My litmus test has been to do no harm to providing the maximum selection and assortment of food to our patrons,” he said. That’s especially important in the COVID environment, when so many people are staying at home, he said.

Commissaries currently selling beer and wine:

California: Twentynine Palms, Port Hueneme

Missouri: Fort Leonard Wood

Nevada: Nellis Air Force Base

New Jersey: Lakehurst Naval Air Engineering Station (part of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst)

New Mexico:White Sands Missile Range

South Carolina: Shaw Air Force Base

Tennessee: Arnold Air Force Base

Texas: Fort Sam Houston (part of Joint Base San Antonio)

Virginia: Fort Myer (part of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall); Little Creek (part of Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story); and Quantico Marine Corps Base

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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