FROM STABLES TO COMPUTERS: Military commissaries hit 155-year milestone with innovations designed to expand benefit
FORT LEE, Va. – Supporting the troops’ quality of life. That was the mission when the modern-day commissary benefit began on July 1, 1867, and since 1991 that’s been the marching orders for the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA).
As the commissary benefit hits its 155th year, DeCA remains committed to continuing a legacy of service that began with one-room subsistence stores and has now transformed to allow patrons to order groceries online from their personal internet-connected devices.
“Today, commissaries are expanding access to the benefit through recent innovations like Commissary CLICK2GO, the agency’s online ordering, payment and curbside pickup program,” said Marine Sgt. Maj. Michael R. Saucedo. “We are also working hard to add delivery, a service we are currently testing at eight stores.”
How did the commissary benefit go from abandoned warehouses and horse stables to virtual aisles? It all started on July 1, 1867, when the military expanded shopping privileges at commissary subsistence stores to enlisted men – a benefit that officers had enjoyed since 1825.
The majority of commissary subsistence stores, at the time, were housed in former abandoned warehouses and stables and were very small inside. In most of them, customers gave their list to clerks behind the counter who filled the order for them and took payment.
Commissary subsistence stores eventually gave way to sales commissaries and sold goods at cost in order to provide them with food at affordable prices. The U.S. Army established commissaries at frontier posts throughout the 1800s.
In 1899, the first overseas commissary opened in Cuba. Another store opened in China in 1900 and in Panama in 1904. By World War I, the U.S. was operating commissary stores in France.
In 1909, the Naval Appropriations Act created the forerunner of the modern Navy commissary store. The Navy opened their first store under this act in 1910 in the Washington Navy Yard.
By the end of World War II, U.S. military commissaries operated worldwide and eventually existed on every continent except Antarctica in more than a thousand locations. In 1947, the U.S. Air Force began operating its own commissaries.
Each military branch continued to run their own commissaries until 1990, when Congress and the Department of Defense decided to consolidate the individual service commissary systems under one agency – the Defense Commissary Agency, which officially formed on Oct. 1, 1991.
Today, DeCA continues to serve the military and its families at 236 stores in 13 countries. The agency is working hard to boost the value of the commissary benefit through Commissary CLICK2GO and some of the following efforts:
- Partnering with the military exchanges to maximize customer savings through joint marketing and promotional opportunities
- Offering the Your Everyday Savings! (YES!) program, which lowers commissary pricing on trending products
- Providing Commissary Store Brands that offer quality private label products at significant savings
- Offering several dietitian-approved programs that help identify healthier options
“The legacy of the commissary benefit has come a long way over the past 155 years,” Saucedo said. “As we move forward, we are determined to reach out to more eligible customers to ensure they don’t miss out on the tremendous savings they’ve earned.”
About DeCA: The Defense Commissary Agency operates a worldwide chain of commissaries providing groceries to military personnel, retirees and their families in a safe and secure shopping environment. Commissaries provide a military benefit, saving authorized patrons thousands of dollars annually on their purchases compared to similar products at commercial retailers. The discounted prices include a 5-percent surcharge, which covers the costs of building new commissaries and modernizing existing ones. A core military family support element, and a valued part of military pay and benefits, commissaries contribute to family readiness, enhance the quality of life for America’s military and their families, and help recruit and retain the best and brightest men and women to serve their country.