FARMINGDALE — Shoppers at several Maine Hannaford supermarkets will see an addition to the natural and organic sections this week: a line of natural cleaning products from a local entrepreneur and house cleaner.

Grace Montalbo’s natural cleaning products, Gracefully Clean, will arrive on the shelves of Hannaford on Whitten Road in Augusta and Waterville’s Elm Plaza store Tuesday. On Monday, she stocked the Hannafords in Biddeford, Falmouth and Saco.

“It’s exciting. I just can’t believe it,” she said. “Six years of hard work.”

Montalbo, 60, makes the products — which include an all-purpose cleaner, a more powerful cleaner for mineral, mold and other grime, a glass cleaner, and a non-abrasive scrub — in the basement of her Farmingdale home out of all-natural ingredients. She has a lavender-scented line and an unscented line.

Before this week, Gracefully Clean could be found at around 15 natural-food and other small stores in the state. She also sells them on her website.

The 16-ounce cleaners cost around $5 to $6 each online, and she said Hannaford will be charging less.

Montalbo began researching how to develop natural cleaners about six years ago after noticing that using toxic cleaning supplies made her feel ill when cleaning clients’ houses. She remembers having to spray Clorox window cleaner, wipe and then run out of the room to take a breath.

She tried other natural cleaning products, but wasn’t satisfied. “For what I wanted, I needed to create my own,” she said.

Montalbo began experimenting with her own natural cleaning products at her clients’ homes. She wanted to use products that were safe to her, the people living in the house and the environment.

She approached Coastal Enterprise, nonprofit that provides support and financing to small businesses, and they put her in touch with chemistry experts at the University of Maine to give what she called a crash-course in chemistry.

Developing the products took “trial and error for a lot of years,” she said.

While working on her formulas, she continued her home cleaning business. She said the most challenging part of starting the business was balancing the energy and funds needed to develop the products with the normal costs of living as a single mother. “And not knowing if it was going to work,” she added.

Montalbo said all along she knew her mission was to provide the option to use natural cleaning products instead of harsh chemicals to as many people as possible but didn’t know how she would reach that goal.

“It was exhausting. I was tired,” she said. “I’m still tired.”

Besides her own money, the venture has been financed by family and friends, she said. Montalbo said she used to ask herself why the process was taking so long, and she became frustrated.

Eventually her sister pushed her; and in April, Montalbo held a cleaning party at which she sold her products.

Soon afterward, Montalbo began approaching natural food stores, starting with Harvest Time Natural Foods in Augusta, and convinced them to start stocking the shelves last March.

When Montalbo first contacted Hannaford this past fall, she wasn’t trying to make a pitch to the company. She said she was just asking them about how a small producer and can get its products into the store.

Montalbo said the store was impressed enough to want to stock Gracefully Clean.

“A big part of our interest in these products is it’s a Maine company,” Hannaford spokesman Eric Blom said, “and we’re always looking for Close to Home products and new products that will interest our customers.”

The Close to Home line consists of items produced or grown locally. Blom said Montalbo’s line will be sold in the natural and organic section of the stores, not in the cleaning product aisle.

She said Hannaford’s order for the five stores was double what her previous largest buyer, Rising Tide in Damariscotta, usually orders.

Montalbo is in the initial stages of securing a low-interest loan from Coastal Enterprise. She said she’s developing a business plan for the loan process.

“If I really want to grow my business, I need to make a huge financial leap,” Montalbo said.

The loan will help her stabilize her supply chain, improve her marketing and hopefully allow her to begin paying people who have been volunteering their time for the venture, she said.

The production will need a relocation out of her modest basement to a dedicated location with a loading dock in six months to a year, she said.

Montalbo expects to be able to keep up with current demand with her set-up, which includes a hot plate for heating some ingredients, several 6-gallon buckets with spouts to fill the bottles and a labeling station.

She said she’s looking forward to Hannaford stocking her products and hopes to expand to more than the five stores after this test run.

“The smaller stores gave me such a good experience,” Montalbo said. “I learned a lot. It’s life. It’s trial and error.”

Paul Koenig — 621-5663
[email protected]

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