Angie and Caleb Edmonson shop at Yokota's commissary.

Angie and Caleb Edmonson shop at Yokota's commissary. (Jason Carter / S&S)

Angie and Caleb Edmonson shop at Yokota's commissary.

Angie and Caleb Edmonson shop at Yokota's commissary. (Jason Carter / S&S)

Senior Airman Teri Medellin stops to check her shopping list at Yokota's commissary.

Senior Airman Teri Medellin stops to check her shopping list at Yokota's commissary. (Jason Carter / S&S)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — When the sliding glass doors whoosh closed behind you, so goes the notion that this is a military commissary.

Colorful product displays brighten aisles wide enough for two — and perhaps three — grocery carts. In the produce department, consumers shop for spinach leaves grown in Japan or navel oranges from the States. The bread is so fresh, it’s sometimes warm to the touch.

The breakfast food aisle offers 117 brands of cereal. A computerized voice says “Next please” to speed up checkout lines.

Military members and their families here can’t believe their good fortune: It’s like hometown shopping, but in Japan.

“Even the way it looks, the way it’s designed, it reminds you of being at a grocery store at home,” said Senior Airman Teri Medellin, 23, a store customer.

A team of judges from the Defense Commissary Agency were similarly impressed: Last week, the store was named the best large commissary overseas in DECA’s 2003 awards competition.

“It’s like winning a gold medal in the Olympics,” said store administrator Jean Jordan on Monday. “I still can’t believe that it happened.”

Yokota’s commissary was among 11 finalists in DECA’s regional competition, which was based on sales for large and small stores and location — the United States and overseas. DECA operates nearly 280 commissaries worldwide for military personnel, retirees and their families.

The judges visited Yokota last month to evaluate commissary operations, from customer service and management to the meat and produce departments, according to a DECA news release.

“They did a visual of the store, customer feedback and what equates to an IG inspection,” Jordan said.

Several factors gave Yokota’s commissary an edge in the competition, Jordan said, starting with store appearance.

The store won eight prestigious merchandising competitions in 2002 for its vibrant food displays.

“Merchandising is art with food,” Jordan said. “If things don’t change once a week, the store becomes lifeless, the product becomes invisible and customers walk by it like it isn’t there.”

Yokota’s commissary also was praised for store cleanliness and keeping its 11,000 line items consistently in stock.

The store maintains a 98 percent fill, or in-stock, rate by ordering six days a week and maintaining a back stock in its warehouse, Jordan said.

“We fill our holes twice a day,” he said.

If the commissary doesn’t carry a product, consumers can request it, said Tech. Sgt. Neil Deabreu, while toting a full basket of sundries.

Medellin has no complaints, though she wishes the store stocked fresh seafood.

“I like shrimp,” she said.

Angie Edmonson, 36, is pleased with the variety of goods.

“I think it’s great. They have everything that you possibly need,” she said.

Store director Karen Ochsner accepted the award for Yokota’s commissary at a ceremony in Norfolk, Va., on Thursday. Yokota’s best large commissary overseas award is named for Dan Daniel; the awards are named in memory of legislators who have protected commissary benefits and supported quality-of-life issues for military members and their families.

DECA officials said this year’s competition was one of the closest ever, and it was only the second time two commissaries shared honors in a category.

The other winners, by category, are:

author picture
Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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