JANUARY 28, 2022 – If it is any solace to authorized patrons, the logistical problems plaguing the commissary here are no more or less than those experienced by grocers outside the gates.
Store Director Sean Farrell took a moment this week to describe the state of Fort Lee Commissary operations amid national supply chain interruptions largely attributed to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We [the nation’s grocers] are all experiencing the same challenges with respect to product availability due to worldwide logistics and manufacturing challenges,” he observed during a Jan. 26 interview.
Indeed, supply chain bottlenecks resulting from labor and material shortages has dominated local and national news reports of late. It is upending markets, causing empty shelves at supermarkets large and small. Farrell said it is a nagging problem affecting nearly every corner of commissary operations.
“It has hampered normal deliveries for the commissary benefit at large,” said the Defense Commissary Agency employee who came aboard in October. “Our stores are well-stocked, however, we have experienced unexpected disruption to our normal supply of products, especially affecting shelf staples and frozen and chilled products.”
Roughly two weeks ago, Farrell said the supply situation warranted the most extensive action to date during the pandemic – the implementation of a purchase-limit policy for certain meat products.
“Just recently – a couple of weeks ago – our fresh chicken supply was cut, so I had to put restrictions on that,” said the 23-year DeCA employee, noting quantities were limited to four items per customer. “[Some patrons] didn’t like it because they can’t come in and stock up like they usually do.”
Store supply issues have been unpredictable or spotty, but never persistent, Farrell emphasized.
“Product unavailability is typically short-lived, and many times the product is back on the shelves by the next day,” he said. “It all depends on my distributor.”
Purchase limits are not common, Farrell clarified, and they are never taken lightly. The decision to implement restrictions on chicken, for example, resulted from weighty considerations with staff as well as the installation leadership.
“We have a very close relationship with the garrison,” said Farrell of his routine dialogue with the post operations team led by Col. Karin L. Watson. “We attend all the meetings here to keep the command updated on operational issues and to promote the benefit. The colonel helps us out in any way possible.”
Purchase limits on chicken will remain in effect until further notice, according to Farrell. Refrigerated dough products such as canned biscuits also will likely remain absent from store shelves, as they are unavailable through the supply chain.
Despite the frustrations of limited and unavailable products, and the long-running coronavirus mitigation measures such as the required wearing of masks, Farrell said customer dissatisfaction has been minimal over the course of the pandemic. He has received very few complaints from a community that, assumedly, does not take the commissary benefit for granted.
Farrell went on to report the Fort Lee store has not experienced personnel shortages and has never lost a day of operation due to supply or labor issues. He proudly gave credit to his staff for that consistency.
“I’m very impressed with the team I have here,” he said.
Although impossible to predict with any degree of certainty, logistical conditions affecting commissary operations are likely to continue for at least the near future, according to the director.
“No matter how long it lasts, customers can continue to count on us to do all that we can to provide the quality, low cost groceries they expect from their commissary benefit,” he said.
The Fort Lee Commissary employs more than 100 workers. It accommodates more than 8,000 military-affiliated shoppers on a weekly basis. It is one of 11 stores operated by DeCA in Virginia.
For a broader overview of the commissary benefit, visit www.commissaries.com. Further information concerning the Fort Lee store is available at 804-765-2254 or online at www.commissaries.com/shopping/store-locations/fort-lee. Anyone with recommendations for additional products or concerns about the services offered can ask to speak with a store manager.
Story by Terrance Bell
U.S. Army Garrison Fort Lee Public Affairs