George Earley of Portland was shopping Wednesday at the Hannaford supermarket on Forest Avenue. Consumers like Earley are often paying more at checkout than they did a year ago. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Andrew Bogner ran into a Portland supermarket last week with what he thought was a short list – hamburgers, a half-pound of cheese, coffee creamer, a few other items. He was shocked when he had to shell out more than $50.

“It was one bag,” he said, incredulous.

Bogner is not alone. Inflation has swollen grocery bills for people across the country and in Maine. Shoppers say they are scouting deals at multiple stores, cutting back on expensive products like meat, relying more heavily on frozen foods instead of fresh ingredients, and making changes in other parts of their budgets.

Customers at a sampling of Maine grocery stores and supermarkets told the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram that products cost more than they ever have. Among the expensive staples: eggs, which were going for $3.99 a dozen, up 235% from $1.19 last summer, and ground beef, at $6.49 a pound, more than double the price last year.

Food prices are causing financial hardship, according to a survey last month of over 400 adults across Maine, conducted by Portland polling firm Market Decisions Research. Half of Maine families of four are spending between $150 and $300 a week on food, with one-fifth spending more than $300.

Ricky Volpe, an agribusiness professor at California Polytechnic State University and a national expert on the economics of food retailing, said grocery prices typically increased about 2% annually before the pandemic. But they’re now up 9% to 10% over the last year.


“This is historic food price inflation, in terms of modern history,” probably not seen since the 1970s or early ’80s, he said.

Trying to track inflation “is like playing Whack-a-Mole,” he said, because once you see price moderation in some products, prices for others pop up.

For instance, meat prices jumped early in the pandemic because processors couldn’t keep their plants open due to safety modifications or labor shortages. Prices remain high, but the increases have leveled off.

But now, chicken and egg prices have risen sharply because of an outbreak of avian flu, the loss of flocks and higher costs for measures to prevent the disease. Bread prices are higher because wheat costs have shot up due to the war in Ukraine, a major international supplier.

Beverages like soda and beer are costlier because aluminum and CO2 supplies are running short. Vegetables are more expensive because of the drought in the West. Energy, labor and transportation costs are factors for nearly every food supplier.

Federal officials have suggested prices will moderate and inflation will level off next year, but Volpe disagrees. He expects prices to continue to rise in 2023, probably 4% to 5% at a minimum. He said the best strategy for consumers is to cook at home – higher food prices are driving up restaurant prices especially high – and to buy in bulk. His other advice: Look for specials and store brands, where price increases haven’t been as sharp.


“A lot of this is baked into the cake for 2023,” he said.


Kacey Pike, store manager at the Hannaford supermarket near the Maine Mall in South Portland, said she has noticed more customers shopping with the weekly sales flyers in hand and using those deals to guide their meal planning.

“You can definitely see those sale items going a little bit faster,” she said.

Pike advised shoppers to look at the per-unit price stickers in the aisles to compare one brand or product to another. “You can look at that and see which one is giving you the best bang for your buck,” she said.

Other Maine supermarkets, such as Shaw’s stores, also display this type of information to help shoppers find bargains. There are also rebate programs and other cost-saving incentives to buy in-house brands. But in the highly competitive supermarket business, the reality is: Groceries are expensive everywhere.


Back at the Hannaford on Forest Avenue in Portland, Bogner was thinking ahead. He was concerned about the looming winter and the cost of heat on top of other expenses, so he bought a pellet stove to stretch out the oil supply for his Westbrook home.

In the meantime, he and his wife are more likely to eat in instead of going out.

“We’re definitely cooking at home more, just hunkering down,” Bogner said.

Yasmeen Tum, another shopper and a graduate student at the University of New England, has taken the same approach. She commutes from South Portland to classes in Biddeford, so she keeps a close eye on prices for both gas and food.

“I try to cook at home more and eat out less,” she said on her way out of the store, holding a bag of potatoes she planned for a hearty soup.

She will still splurge on a favorite food, however. “Avocados have gone up, but I’m still going to buy them,” Tum said.


Christina Maiorano said she will still pay extra money at a farmers market to support local growers, but she has otherwise been avoiding grocery stores because of her sticker shock. The South Portland resident prefers to cook with fresh ingredients, but she has been buying them only when she knows she can avoid wasting any food.

She finally went into Trader Joe’s in Portland on Wednesday to stock up on freezer meals.

“I can’t even believe what I’ve been spending, so I’ve been buying the bare minimum,” Maiorano said.

Other shoppers have taken a different approach, visiting more stores than usual.

Devin Weimer of Portland said she is shopping around for deals or only buying a little of something at a time. She stopped at the Forest Avenue Hannaford on Wednesday for snacks and a few cases of sparkling water. She also bought a travel-size shampoo because she couldn’t stomach the price of the full-size, and she passed on a $6 bag of chips because “my son and husband will eat it in 30 seconds.”

Weimer had skipped buying sparkling water the previous night, when she did her grocery shopping at a Shaw’s store. And she recently used Amazon Prime rewards to bring down her bill at the Whole Foods Market in Portland.


“I shop the sales specifically, which is not usual,” she said.


Shoppers also drive where they feel they can get a deal. Willie McConnico made the trip from Brunswick to Westbrook to shop at a Market Basket on Thursday. The truck driver left the store with milk, Gatorade, chips and other basics.

“We have to drive down to Market Basket to get the best deals,” he said. “I can’t wait until they put one in Topsham.”

Larry and Robin Rubinstein, Scarborough residents in their 80s, came to Market Basket for pizza supplies on Thursday. But they didn’t leave with every item on their list.

“I didn’t buy strawberries this week,” Larry said. He shook his head as he remembered the price. “They were $4.49 for a small package.”


“Everything is more expensive,” Robin said.

They’ve been buying more in bulk and shopping the sales.

“We wait for the chickens to go on sale for under $1 a pound,” Larry said. “We freeze ’em.”

William Geary and Janet Long of Portland wait for a bus after shopping for groceries at a Hannaford store. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Diana Roberts of Gorham was pushing one cart and pulling another as she left Market Basket. She was doing her monthly shopping but said her $250 budget is not going as far as it used to. Coffee and chicken were the biggest sticker shocks for her, and she has given up on finding favorite cuts of red meat.

“I haven’t bought a roast in almost a year,” she said.

Roberts, who is 60 and retired, said she is worried about families with young children who might not be able to afford fresh fruits and vegetables right now.


“I couldn’t afford to feed a family today,” she said. “If my kids were little, I couldn’t do it. How many parents are going without food so their kids can eat?”

William Geary and Janet Long were out in Portland to pick up dinner supplies after taking a bus from their apartment on State Street. A food bank truck stops by their apartment building every week, although Long said she tries to give other people the chance to pick out their items before she sees what is left.

She said the neighbors in the building look out for each other and offer a big pot of something to anyone who might need a bite to eat.

“We’re making tacos tonight,” Geary said.

The friends both live on fixed incomes and said they have noticed the rising prices. Long said she feels like her usual items cost the same but come with less.

“You used to get a 5-pound bag of sugar, and now it’s 4,” she said.

“It’s going to get worse before it gets better,” Geary said.

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