This is Why Commissary Shelves Are Often Empty


Ever notice that commissary shelves are often mysteriously empty? It’s one of the top complaints I’ve read from commissary shoppers. Items – regardless of whether they carry a special price that day or not – are just gone.

Where are the people who add stuff to the shelves when they are gone? Why is the thing you want missing for weeks at a time? Whyyyyyyyyyy?

A new report commissioned by the Defense Department sheds some light on the restocking process — and why they are often empty.

The first thing to know is that, with the exception of a few categories (like produce) and stores (overseas) commissary employees rarely stock shelves. Instead the commissary or the vendors who supply the goods hire subcontractors to do the job. Commissary employees often do the work only if the goods are available and the contractors fail to stock them, the report says.

So what’s the problem? Regulations make it hard to get poor-performing contractors to change their ways in a timely way. And that means shelves stay empty while commissary officials work through the complaint process.

Why are commissary shelves often empty? It's probably not about supply and demand. Here's the deal:


“While a small percentage of the out-of-stocks stem from unanticipated spikes in patron demand, a much great proportion is typically caused by a lack of supplier, contractor, and vendor stocker effectiveness,” the report, prepared by the Boston Consulting Group and presented to Congress this month, said. “The process for informing a contractor of underperformance involves several stages including several rounds of discussion and letters with the contractor and 10-day period for contractors to correct the issue.”

And all that time? You’re just waiting for there to be more Cheerios. The struggle is real.

Yeah, yeah, yeah — “so just go to Walmart.” OK, that’s great for people with access to a Walmart. But many commissaries are located in rural locations where going to a different store isn’t exactly an option.

So what does the report recommend doing about this? Skip the contractors and have commissary employees stock the shelves instead, the report says.

Making that happen is way more complicated that you’d expect thanks to the federal systems which commissary employees are currently a part of. The report recommends moving them to a different system, in part to solve problems like this one. But that would come with a pay and benefits cut, possibly for both new and existing employees. And since a majority of commissary employees are also military family members, that’s going to hit families where it hurts, too. (You can read more about that over here).


Photo courtesy of U.S. Air Force.

About the Author

Amy Bushatz
Amy is the editor in chief of’s spouse and family blog A journalist by trade, Amy also covers spouse and family news for where she is the managing editor of spouse and family content. An Army wife and mother of two, Amy has been featured as a subject matter expert on, NPR, Fox News, NBC, CBS, ABC and BBC as well as in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. Follow her on twitter @amybushatz.
  • Wayne Perry

    WHOA HORSEY!!! So you’re telling me if DeCA and the DoD were not being given so much resistance to reform by VSO’s and certain lawmakers, as well as other outside influences, then perhaps we could get our Cheerios without having to contact a union rep (a rep in which our troops don’t “benefit” from themselves)?

    Much of this reform that is coming out of this report sounds awfully sensible. I do hope our VSO’s, which are our troops/vets only true voice, I hope they have been preparing for this report and have a response to it that goes further than simply saying “End Sequestration”. With a hashtag even. Sadly however I think there’s a better chance of getting a response to an off the cuff Presidential candidate remark.

    Recently someone said to me in regards to the commissary: “if we let them make these reform changes they are proposing, where will it end?”……… uh….. um……. perhaps when it is fixed/working and we can get our Cheerios without having to file several complaints.

    The commissary has received nothing but resistance in this budget conversation. This new report seems to be quite contradictory to reports in the past so it will be interesting to see if there are any concessions from the staunch resisters in an attempt to avert other benefits from being cut to make up for these seemingly sensible cuts that keep being proposed. I just hope it isn’t too late to help our lawmakers make sure the reform is sensible.

  • Cathy

    Typical gov’t red tape and stupidity. Ugh. My local grocery store rarely has empty shelves and their prices are competitive with the commissary. If I can’t find something I want, I ask an employee and they go check the back for me. The produce is much fresher. If my store can do this, why can’t the commissary?

  • Cathy

    AND my store is open 24/7.

  • Lolu

    So they’ll be doing more work but then get a pay cut? Why couldn’t they pay them with the leftover from cutting g the contractors out?

  • Dez

    I actually asked a commissary employee and she told me that. The commissary is the last stop from the vendors. So pretty much we get the left overs after the vendors go to walmart and all the bug stores.

    • Dealer08

      Well that would explain why the commissary seems to have produce that goes bad by the time you get it home.

  • garry

    The commissary basically sucks but does offer good discounts on the items it has in stock. Produce is not that good and often ruined. If DeCA has bad contractors it is still their fought if the contractor doesn’t perform, because they are the ones who wrote the contract and must enforce it. They obviously have questionable acquisition personnel. DeCA needs a good scrubbing out if they are allowed to stay in business. Someone needs to start with their Hqtrs at Ft Lee and review every senior level position both Military and Civilian. A lot of dead weight in their bureaucracy.

  • Larry

    Since when are there more commissaries in rural locations than Walmarts?

    • Amy_Bushatz

      Larry — we’re not talking “rural” locations we are talking RURAL. Like, Fort Irwin levels of rural. So rural that there ISNT a Walmart and your nearest option is quite the drive.

  • jsinorlanod

    Money is the answer. Charge back a percentage of the payment for the goods that compensate the Commissary for the cost of stocking shelves.

  • Navyjag907

    It’s hard to believe we have a contract like this where our own employees can’t restock the shelves, The legal word to describe this is dumb. I’m no management expert but seems intuitive that the commissary store manager should be able direct his employees to restock the shelves.

  • RespectTheArmy

    Just is simply more excuses from the Government. That is all we hear are excuses and another reason why civil servants do little in their jobs (they talk the talk but don’t walk the walk} Civilian companies fire contractors for non compliance very easily. So DO WE want to continue to hear more excuses from the overpaid civil servants or do WE WANT someone like Trump to come in and kick out all these underperformers. I could care less about their pensions; they don’t deserve pensions. This is getting old and more sickening by the minute.

  • Floral

    I don’t particularly want either…
    Those are not the only two options.

    Let’s not forget that baggers in the commissary work for tips only. I hardly call that “overpaid.”