More military commissaries to offer home grocery delivery this year

by Vern Evans

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Commissary customers across the country will soon be able to get groceries delivered to their doorstep, as officials prepare to expand the military’s home-delivery pilot program this summer.

Grocery deliveries will start in the western United States around midsummer before rolling out nationwide, Defense Commissary Agency Director John Hall told Military Times in an interview Tuesday. Hall announced the program’s expansion the same day at a meeting of the American Logistics Association, a trade association representing companies that sell to commissaries, exchanges and morale, welfare and recreation entities on bases.

Where the program will become available depends on the delivery range of companies that are picked to provide the service. Hall said there are early indications that companies are interested in almost all of the commissary locations in the continental United States.

Officials expect to solicit contract bids from delivery companies soon.

The commissary agency has run a grocery-delivery pilot program at eight commissaries for nearly two years. Customers have logged nearly 28,000 transactions, averaging $128.70 per order, since June 1, 2022, according to the Defense Commissary Agency.

When the pilot began, two companies held contracts to ferry food and other goods from stores to customers’ homes. One of those companies, ChowCall, took over deliveries for all eight commissaries in March 2023. About 60% of ChowCall’s deliveries head off base, while 40% stay on base, according to Todd Waldemar, the company’s chief executive officer.

Their customers range from active duty families to troops living in barracks, retirees and disabled veterans — and people who want to get a head start on shopping or grab a bite to eat while at work.

“We’ve delivered a bunch of orders to aircraft hangars,” Waldemar said.

The service can be especially helpful to young families of troops who are deployed.

“If you’re living on base, your spouse is deployed, 99.9% of the time you can’t get diapers and formula delivered to your house,” Waldemar said.

That’s changed for those who live near a commissary that currently falls under the pilot program. Right now, those include Scott Air Force Base, Illinois; Fort Bragg South, North Carolina; MacDill AFB, Florida; Fort Belvoir and Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia; Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington; and Marine Corps Air Station Miramar and Naval Base San Diego in California.

“We’ve had a lot of positive comments. … Some people do a lot of orders,” Waldemar said, noting one repeat customer has placed 98 orders. One sailor in the unaccompanied housing at NS Norfolk has placed 56 orders, the CEO said.

When the pilot first launched in 2022, most delivery fees hovered around $4 per order. Those low fees made it financially difficult for companies to cover operating costs like gas prices and drivers’ salaries.

When ChowCall took over last year, they were allowed to launch a new pricing structure with fees that change based on a customer’s distance from the commissary. Delivery fees now range from $15.99 for a trip of five miles or less, to $29.99 for a 16- to 20-mile trip.

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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