SAGAMIHARA FAMILY HOUSING AREA, Japan – A new monthly forum that allows community residents to ask questions and hear updates on the local commissaries kicked off here Tuesday.
Col. Marcus Hunter, commander of U.S. Army Garrison Japan, joined Totolua Ripley, director of both the Sagamihara Family Housing Area and Camp Zama commissaries, for the first iteration of the forum that he said is all about taking care of people.
“We want to provide the highest quality products and resources for our folks to get what they need,” Hunter said. “And it’s an important feedback loop for us as well, to know that these are their concerns.”
The ongoing forum, which will be held on the second Tuesday of each month at 8:30 a.m. inside the SFHA commissary, will discuss upcoming sales events, the supply chain, product quality and food safety, as well as product recalls.
Hunter believes the face-to-face interaction with commissary officials will give residents more clarity on the behind-the-scenes work being done at the commissaries.
“It’s an opportunity to communicate and directly answer peoples’ questions,” he said. “Sometimes people just don’t know, or they’ve heard something [else], so this is an important way to make sure correct information is shared and understood.”
One of the challenges mentioned during the forum was delayed shipments arriving to the stores.
Ripley said that has been an issue for the past few years since the commissaries must rely on American container shipping companies to bring goods from the United States.
But if a ship has mechanical problems, it needs to turn back and transfer its containers to another ship to restart the long voyage, further pushing the limit on many goods that have shorter expiration dates.
“When it comes to perishable items, it’s very critical because there’s only so much shelf life,” Ripley said. “By the time a product gets here, we then maybe have five or six days to try and sell the product.”
U.S. Transportation Command recently approved the use of non-American shipping companies to ensure deliveries to commissaries in Japan stay on track. Last month, Ripley said a Singapore-based vessel was used for the first time to transport goods here.
“Hopefully that will resolve the issue with the delays,” he said. “They are filling the gaps where we don’t have a vessel to set sail.”
The initial forum also had Soldiers from Public Health Activity–Japan discuss the food inspections they conduct daily at the stores to ensure only quality and safe products are on the shelves.
If a shopper discovers a spoiled or infested product, for instance, Ripley encourages them to return it to the commissary for a free replacement, even if they no longer have the receipt.
“It’s always best to come and bring the product in,” he said, “so that we can trace the origin of it and see where we ran into problems with it.”
Megan Hansen, a military spouse, was one of the residents to join the chat and ask questions to the leadership. She plans to disseminate the information she learned to other family members in the 35th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion.
“I think it’s great that they’re doing it,” she said of the forum. “Because if there are issues that do arise, [residents won’t] feel like they’re not being heard. It will put those issues to rest, and I think it will help [the commissaries] as well.”
Ripley said he looked forward to receiving more input from customers and educating them on all the efforts to try to keep them coming back to the stores.
“It’s very important, because they are the customers, they are the ones that we serve,” he said. “Whenever there is an issue and a customer is not satisfied, it’s good for us to have that communication.”
[Editor’s Note: Those interested in attending the commissary forum can RSVP by sending an email to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.]