With Maine’s first Costco opening this week, recent expansions by Market Basket and an appetite for more retailers along the interstate corridor, the consensus is to expect more national grocery competition here in the next few years.
That is Maine’s largest retail industry, with food and beverage stores accounting for nearly 20,000 jobs and an increasing economic output of $1.2 billion in 2022, according to state data. Hannaford dominates as the second largest private employer here with 66 stores.
But the old guard no longer has a total hold. Recent entrances from Market Basket, Trader Joe’s, Amazon-owned Whole Foods and now Costco are shaking things up down south, with Market Basket close to opening up a new location in Topsham, signaling an intent to climb up Interstate 295 in a largely e-commerce-proof industry.
“[With] Mainers, and outside of Maine, the nature of the consumer is bricks and mortar, in-store shopping, right?” said Joseph Italiaander, an associate broker with The Boulos Co. who specializes in commercial real estate. “So that’s definitely a driver behind a lot of these new developments and this trend for expansion.”
Economic development directors in Brunswick and Augusta said expansion to their municipalities is likely, and they expect that their regions would welcome new concept supermarkets like Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods or Market Basket.
At Brunswick’s longtime retail hub of Cook’s Corner, interested parties are talking about specific sites that could handle a “larger format” for groceries, said Sally Costello, Brunswick’s economic development director, who added that she has talked with brokers but would not name them.
With more than 200 housing units in the pipeline in Brunswick and a revitalization effort in the Cooks Corner neighborhood, Costello said there would be enough traffic to a new grocery store on top of the two Hannafords and one Shaw’s already there.
“I think … a missing piece of the puzzle is having, like, a Trader Joe’s or Market Basket, and I think they would do very well here,” Costello said.
Augusta is also worth watching due to its location and status as a capital city that swells to a daytime population of more than 60,000. A new offering in the grocery sector is always going to be welcomed because of that, even though it is relatively well-served already with two Hannafords, a Shaw’s and a Walmart, according to Keith Luke, the city’s economic development director.
“We would be an excellent choice,” Luke said.
Like Costello, Luke suggested that a new supermarket might look to an existing big-box store to move into, such as the Western Avenue plaza near the State House that was anchored by Kmart before it closed in 2019. Most supermarkets will look to repurpose already built large-format spaces like those over constructing new ones, Italiaander said.
That is because it is getting increasingly hard to find the 10 to 20 acres needed for a supermarket, he said, and construction costs have exploded since the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s very difficult to find quality land, in high traffic areas, near interstate exits, near other retail that can be developed,” Italiaander said.
For the same reasons, Italiaander also predicted that smaller-format supermarkets like Aldi will be coming to Maine, because they require less room to operate. He expects to see Market Basket and Hannaford continue to expand, and out-of-state concepts like Costco or Trader Joe’s to add stores up the coast and northward in dense areas.
Shaw’s, which has 19 stores statewide, appears to be feeling the effects of stiff competition. It closed two locations in Greater Portland last year: one in Westbrook, where Market Basket opened in 2020, and another in Scarborough. Hannaford moved quickly to fill the vacated Scarborough location and recently added stores in Brunswick and Blue Hill.
Representatives of Market Basket, Aldi and Whole Foods did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
“We are actively looking at hundreds of neighborhoods across the country as we hope to open more new neighborhood stores each year,” a spokesperson for Trader Joe’s, which has just one Maine location in Portland, said. “At this time, we do not have a new location confirmed in Maine.”