A customer walks out of Shaw’s at Northgate Plaza in Portland in February. The grocery store, which was founded in Portland, was the costliest of Maine’s four major supermarkets in a recent price check of 16 items. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Getting the best prices on groceries is a bit of a game for Karen Zuckerman.

The Portland resident scans sales in weekly supermarket flyers, clips and downloads coupons, and regularly takes advantage of loss leaders – those items priced well below cost to entice shoppers.

Zuckerman’s food-gathering forays take her to various supermarkets, bakeries, ethnic markets, farm stands and specialty food shops in the Portland area. On this late February day, she’s loading her car with great deals she just got at Shaw’s supermarket on outer Congress Street. She’s beaming over her bags of fresh carrots, celery and potatoes.

“I make the rounds. It’s my entertainment,” said Zuckerman, 60, a self-described foodie who is a nursing instructor at the University of Southern Maine. She also shops for friends who are older adults and new Mainers.

Price is a driving reason – if not the only factor – for where people buy food. And for some, it’s serious business, especially since food prices jumped during the pandemic and continue to rise with inflation. U.S. prices for food eaten at home typically rise 2.5% per year, but in 2022, they rose 11.4%, and in 2023, they rose another 5%, according to government data.

That’s why the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram decided to compare prices at the four major full-service, non-membership grocery sellers across Maine – Hannaford, Market Basket, Shaw’s and Walmart – and learn something about how each company operates and why people shop there.


Our price check, based on 16 items surveyed the same week, found Market Basket to be the least expensive at $45.77 and Shaw’s to be the most expensive at $51.64. The same bag of groceries cost $46.55 at Hannaford and $47.06 at Walmart.

The exercise also highlighted each chain’s pricing and sale strategies, as well as other programs and tactics many supermarkets are employing to keep customers (and employees) coming back, including digital apps, email blasts, cafés that sell budget lattes, progressive hiring policies, and sustainable product and store design choices.

“It’s all about responding to their customer base,” said Christine Cummings, executive director of the Maine Grocers and Food Producers Association, which has 150 members, including Hannaford, Market Basket and Shaw’s.

“But they still have to be really mindful of what they pay for a product and what they sell it for,” Cummings added. “Because in the end, they’re still facing a profit margin of only 1% to 2%.”

The pandemic also revolutionized food shopping habits for many Americans, confronting traditional supermarkets with an explosion of competition from online food sellers such as Amazon, Instacart and HelloFresh. As a result, many supermarkets have added or expanded online, pickup and delivery services and improved in-store shopping experiences in the hope of bringing more customers through their doors.

The impact of the upheaval can be seen nationally and here in Maine, where 19 Shaw’s supermarkets could be affected by the pending $24.6 billion merger of its owner, Albertsons, and Kroger – the nation’s two largest supermarket operators. The Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit last month trying to block Kroger’s takeover, saying it would drive up prices for millions of Americans.


At the same time, Maine’s supermarket landscape continues to diversify, with the opening last year of the state’s first Costco in Scarborough, and further growth and consolidation among Shaw’s, Hannaford, Market Basket, Target, Walmart and independent grocers across the state.

Lisa Bernier, of Portland, loads groceries into the car after shopping at Market Basket in Westbrook on Monday. She said she prefers to shop at Market Basket because she finds the best deals there and the quality of the produce is good. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

All the turbulence shows retailers recognize that Americans have an amplified interest in getting groceries post-pandemic that transcends the 6% to 8% of food shopping that’s done online, said Phil Lempert, food industry analyst and founding editor of supermarketguru.com.

“People like going to the supermarket,” Lempert said. “We like seeing our neighbors. We like walking into the produce department with all those great colors and aromas. During the pandemic, food was sustenance. We like that food is more than sustenance.”

And while many people loathe the impact that inflation and other factors can have on their grocery bills, most understand that supermarkets have little control mining an average 1.5% net profit margin after paying food producers, distributors and other expenses, Lempert said.

“We understand that prices are never going down again,” he said. “We hope that food prices are going to stay relatively stable, but we’re always going to have problems with climate change, droughts, floods, bird flu and everything else that affects food prices.”



Market Basket fared best in our price comparison, which included a variety of name-brand and store-brand products.

The shopping list for all four stores consisted of eggs, yogurt, Almond Breeze almond milk, navel oranges, celery, peas, corn, Heinz ketchup, sugar, Cape Cod potato chips, split-top wheat bread, Barilla pasta, pasta sauce, Polar seltzer, ground beef and frozen cooked shrimp.

Jillian Grip, of South Portland, talks about the shopping experience at Market Basket on Monday. She likes shopping there because prices are low – and she can get a latte from the in-store café for $1.50 with no upcharge for non-dairy milk. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Four of the 16 items were on sale at Market Basket, which publishes a large, colorful, well-organized flyer each week. It features sales and holiday specials, but it lacks the digital coupons or reward programs offered by other supermarkets.

Products on store shelves confirmed what shoppers said they like about the Tewksbury, Massachusetts-based chain, which opened its first Maine store in Biddeford in 2013 and its second in Westbrook in 2020. With 89 stores across New England, a third Maine store is under construction in Topsham.

Jillian Grip, of South Portland, shops regularly at the Market Basket in Westbrook. She returned midweek recently because she ran out of tomatoes and cucumbers. She also picked up a $1.50 latte in the Market’s Café, as usual, which she enjoys even more because there’s no extra charge for non-dairy milk.

“I shop here mostly for the prices, but they have great produce and meats as well,” said Grip, 23, a behavioral therapist and art instructor who occasionally shops at Trader Joe’s in Portland for “treats.”


“(Market Basket) also has a great variety of products and their store brand products are great,” Grip said. “Market Basket bread is $2 a loaf. If you’re a family shopping on a budget, you can really do it with Market Basket brand items.”

Lisa Bernier is another Market Basket regular. A Portland mom who is an eyelash technician and bar manager, she finds the best deals there. She also likes the sprawling produce department, which is dominated by a long display case featuring a wide variety of lettuces, cabbages, herbs and other green vegetables.

“I think the pricing is a lot lower than Hannaford,” Bernier said, “and the quality of the produce is a lot better than Shaw’s.”

Market Basket didn’t respond to requests for interviews.


Scarborough-based Hannaford came in second in our price check, with only two of the 16 items on sale.


Founded in Portland in 1883, it is now owned by Ahold Delhaize in the Netherlands. It operates 187 stores in New England and New York, including 66 stores in Maine. In January, Hannaford announced plans to acquire Paradis Shop ‘n Save supermarkets in Fort Kent and Madawaska, which will reopen under the Hannaford banner this spring.

Like Market Basket, Hannaford puts out a flyer that is colorful and well-organized, and features weekly sales and holiday specials. It also highlights the chain’s store brand rewards program and everyday low-price items.

But Galen Richards isn’t expecting to find bargains at any supermarket these days. Proximity is the main reason he shops at Hannaford on Portland’s Back Cove.

“It’s near my house,” said Richards, 45, holding a paper bag of groceries in his arms. “And it’s not Whole Foods, which is expensive and I don’t support.”

Richards said he’s no fan of billionaire Jeff Bezos, who owns Amazon, the world’s largest retailer, and Whole Foods, the high-end supermarket chain that opened its only Maine store in Portland in 2007.

Galen Richards, of Portland, talks about his shopping experience at the Hannaford in the Back Cove neighborhood. He said he shops there because it is close to his home, is less expensive than the nearby Whole Foods and is “not owned by Jeff Bezos.” Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Richards, who works for a marine construction company, said Hannaford has great variety and food quality, but it’s expensive.


“But that’s everywhere,” he said. “Especially in the last two or three years – since the pandemic – the cost of everything is creeping up.”

Hannaford is also the favorite grocery store for Nada, 65, a Bosnian immigrant who lives in Portland and declined to give her last name.

She said Hannaford has better food quality and customer service than Shaw’s, where she said she has had negative experiences with disrespectful employees. She also doesn’t like Shaw’s pricing strategy, which runs weekly sales Thursday through Wednesday, rather than Sunday through Saturday like other supermarkets.

“This is the best place,” she said while loading groceries into her car at Hannaford’s Back Cove location.

Shoppers head to vehicles in the parking lot after visiting Hannaford in Portland in February. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Hannaford makes a point of seeking customer feedback, said Nancy Dumais, director of marketing strategy and planning. That’s why they’ve developed programs to promote healthy food options, gluten-free products, local produce, prepared meals, and online shopping with pickup or delivery.

The company also strives to be a good corporate citizen, including promoting environmentally friendly products and practices and progressive employment policies, which for 12 years have won top scores for LGBTQ+ workplace equality from the Human Rights Campaign.


“Those things are important to customers today,” Dumais said. “They may not be important to all customers, but they are important to some.”

When it comes to pricing, Hannaford has some regular sales, but it also promotes competitive “everyday low prices” that remain the same for weeks.

“The idea is, we set prices and we hold them so people don’t have to shop around,” Dumais said.


Our price comparison put Walmart in third place with no sale items on the list. Based in Bentonville, Arkansas, the multinational retail corporation with 19 supercenters in Maine controls 22% of the U.S. grocery market, according to J.P. Morgan analyst Ken Goldman.

While Walmart occasionally puts out sale flyers, shoppers there generally expect its prices to be among the lowest available given the company’s buying power and known pricing strategy.


Some shoppers bristle when assumptions are made about where they buy groceries, especially if they shop at Walmart.

Tina Tarr was quick to explain that the only reason she stopped by Walmart in Scarborough recently was to buy a box of powdered laundry detergent because she tries to avoid products in plastic containers. Usually, she shops at Shaw’s in Saco, where she lives.

Shoppers walk to the grocery and pharmacy entrance at Walmart in Scarborough in February. The store was the second-priciest of Maine’s four major supermarkets in a recent survey of 16 items.  Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

“I know the layout of the (Shaw’s) store, and I’m comfortable with it,” she said, but her husband prefers Hannaford.

While at Walmart, Tarr also picked up some butter and milk, but she decided against buying apples, which she needed to bake a pie for her husband.

“I didn’t get the apples (at Walmart) because they were too expensive and not very nice,” said Tarr, 68. “I’ll get them at Shaw’s on the way home. The produce is pretty good (at Shaw’s), although it’s probably better at Hannaford.”

Price isn’t always a factor for Tarr, although like Zuckerman, for whom low price is a priority, she admits to buying sale items at Shaw’s.


“Some things, I don’t care what I pay for them,” Tarr said. “For other things, I’m a careful shopper.”

Price is a primary goal for Delia Dotson, a West Newfield resident who cooks lots of Asian and Italian dishes for her family of five. Her store of choice is Walmart in Biddeford, although she was at the Scarborough store recently after shopping at an Asian market in Portland.

“Walmart is cheaper for us to buy food,” she said. “We eat lots of greens and other vegetables. We don’t eat junk food.”

Walmart didn’t respond to requests for interviews.


Shaw’s came in last in our price check, even though seven of the 16 items were on sale. Sales are promoted in its weekly flyer, which includes holiday specials and additional savings available with digital coupons. Some sale items didn’t really seem to be on sale, however.


Polar seltzer was sale priced at four liter-size bottles for $5, or $1.25 each – higher than regular prices at other stores. Ground beef was sale priced at $5.49 per pound, which was the second-highest among the four stores surveyed.

Shaw’s sales often show how its prices can vary widely. A 32-ounce bottle of Heinz ketchup was on sale for $3.99 during our price check – 77 to 80 cents cheaper than the regular prices at the other stores – but the regular Shaw’s price was $5.99. A bunch of celery at Shaw’s was $3.49 – the most expensive during our price check – but it was on sale for 97 cents with a digital coupon two weeks later.

Lempert, the food industry analyst, said food producers and manufacturers often are responsible for the deep discounts and product promotions that supermarkets translate into sales.

“It’s not the retailer saying they’re going to lower the price,” Lempert said. “That cost savings, that buy-one, get-one-free is coming from the manufacturer and being passed through to the consumer.”

Shaw’s, which was founded in Portland in 1860, is now owned by Albertsons, one of the largest supermarket operators in the U.S. There are 127 Shaw’s locations across New England, including 19 in Maine.

Shaw’s is committed to providing great customer service and shopping ease through its drive-up grocery pickup, meal solutions and a customer loyalty program that provides additional ways to save, the company said in a statement.


“Shaw’s customers come to our stores to find quality products at a great price, and our private label brands, in particular, offer a strong combination of excellent value, quality, fresh offerings and availability,” the company said.

In the end, however, the supermarket closest to home may win the food shopping game.

Steve Mitchell, of Portland, shops at Hannaford for local produce and Trader Joe’s for budget-priced prepared foods, but he’s at Shaw’s Westgate several times a week.

“It’s close to my house,” said Mitchell, 66, a massage therapist and sports trainer. He was loading a reusable shopping bag containing cottage cheese, blueberries and Cape Cod chips into the saddlebag of the motorcycle he rides year-round.

“I’m here every other day for whatever I need,” he said. “I have brand affinities, but I definitely keep an eye out for sales. Mostly, I come here because it’s close to my house. I can walk or ride my bike.”

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