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Commissaries making healthy choices easier

FORT LEE, Va. – Commissaries are making shopping easier for today's health-conscious shoppers, who welcome any relief from the arduous task of reading product label after product label trying to make healthy selections.

It's all beginning at the Fort Meade Commissary, Md., where shoppers will soon find a gluten-free section and a rearranged grocery department lineup that will make it easier to spot "Better For You" products, as well as organic and natural products commissaries have had for many years.

The Fort Meade product rearrangement is expected to be complete in July.

This latest initiative will be an integral part of the Defense Commissary Agency's continued support of the Defense Department's Healthy Base Initiative. Plans are to roll out similar arrangements later this year to commissaries at Fort Bragg, N.C., Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., and March Air Reserve Base, Calif. HBI is a year-long demonstration project under DOD's Operation Live Well program to improve the health and wellness of service members and their families.

DeCA's sales director, Randy Chandler, uses two words, "integrate and segregate," to describe the effort. Its purpose is to make it easier to spot products lower in calories, which is the primary "Better For You" criteria. The agency uses lower calorie criteria established by the Hudson Institute, an independent policy research organization, whose standards have been incorporated into HBI. Two other criteria are included: (1) sugar is less than 10 grams per serving in breakfast cereals; and (2) saturated fat in any product is less than seven grams per serving.

"Better For You" (BFY) items are integrated in the products customers see as they course down the aisles; our new product arrangement will segregate them out of the mix so that customers can easily identify them," Chandler said. "Go down the cereal aisle, and there will be the BFY products alongside the other cereal selections. That scenario will repeat itself down the aisles of other food products where applicable."

Displays of BFY products at the ends of aisles and at checkout stands are also in the mix as ways to increase customer awareness, which is also part of the agency's effort, according to Army Col. Michael Buley, DeCA's director of public health and safety, who serves as the agency's HBI liaison.

"Shoppers generally know about the health benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables," Buley says. "We've always been a popular fresh produce purveyor, and increasing produce sales is one of our goals along with growing our Better For You segment, so our objectives already lined up nicely with HBI."

Rogers Campbell, executive director of the agency's Sales, Marketing and Policy Group, noted that the effort involves input from sources inside and outside of DeCA. DeCA's industry partners, are providing product merchandising expertise, while, through HBI, the agency is tapping the expertise of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab.

"We're drawing on the best that the grocery industry has to offer to make commissary shopping fit the needs of our patron base, and being physically fit and healthy is a major component of military service," says Campbell, who served in the Army. "As the provider of the commissary benefit, DeCA is taking the initiative through this effort to help make it easier for our patrons to reach their health and fitness goals."

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. Authorized patrons purchase items at cost plus a 5-percent surcharge, which covers the costs of building new commissaries and modernizing existing ones. Shoppers save an average of more than 30 percent on their purchases compared to commercial prices – savings amounting to thousands of dollars annually. 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.

Media Contact:
Kevin L. Robinson
(804) 734-8000, Ext. 4-8773

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