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When the Falmouth Crossing Hannaford Supermarket and Pharmacy launched a “grand reopening” April 12, it was only a small part of a $100 million two-year renovation program for some of the company’s Maine stores.
By the end of 2019, the Scarborough-based company will have renovated 18 of its 63 stores in the state. Also, by then it will have built two new stores since the beginning of 2018.
But the work — which most recently includes the stores in Falmouth, Gorham, Westbrook and Portland’s Riverside store, all of which are celebrating their remodels this month — is about more than just sprucing up buildings.
While all the store renovations are different, depending on store size, age, customer needs and local ordinances, the Falmouth store is typical of the philosophy behind the renovations — a bigger focus on fresh and healthy foods, local suppliers, convenience for customers and making room for some of the chain’s new programs.
Most of the remodels include locating the Clynk returnable bottle station into the parking lot, pharmacies remodeled for more privacy and comfort and expanded self-checkout areas.
The biggest change, though, is expansion and rearranging produce sections, including moving some store entrances so they open into the produce department, said Cheryl Hinkson, director of operations for Hannaford, who’s overseeing the four Portland-area store renovations.
It’s a fitting focus for a company that began as a horse-drawn produce cart in Portland in 1883. Now owned by Dutch company Ahold Delhaize, Hannaford has 181 stores in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and New York, with 63 of the stores in Maine.
Diana Darling, standing in the middle of the produce department in the Falmouth store last week, said, “Isn’t this something? This is my favorite part.”
Darling is manager of the 55,686-square-foot store, which was built in 2000 as a prototype a new Hannaford design that featured high ceilings and big, high windows.
The just-completed renovation didn’t add space, but rearranged it in a way that expanded the produce area, giving it an open-market feel, and also features more fresh, store-made food in from an expanded kitchen.
When customers walk in, they “get the full scan” of the produce department and the fresh food offerings beyond it, Hinkson said.
The new produce sections have lower-profile displays, arranged and grouped differently, as well as more efficient use of wall space, to give the section a more comfortable feel and make it easier to move around in.
The new produce sections flow into expanded prepared food sections, including, store-made meals and sushi, fried chicken, hot meals and, in some stores, make-your-own stir-fry bars. “This all comes from customer feedback,” Hinkson said.
The changes come from intense study of what customers want, she said, and that may mean different things at different stores.
The expanded cheese section in Falmouth, for instance, wouldn’t work in a store where customers don’t want as many different varieties of cheese.
The renovations focus on “grab and go” convenience, while also on the growing expectation for local products, an eye towards budgets, but also more of a range of products customers want when they do a full shopping trip.
Remodels also include changes to pharmacies that provide more privacy, including a consultation room, partitions between windows, comfortable chairs and carpeting.
Where local ordinances and room allows, the remodeled stores are getting Hannaford To Go, where customers order groceries online in advance, and store-employed “shoppers” gather the groceries. In Falmouth, a large room with refrigerators has been added for the program.
Hannaford plans to add 19 Hannaford To Gos by the end of this year, for a total of 26 in Maine.
Some stores, including Falmouth, also have added cafes — a sectioned-off area with tables near the exit, where customers can meet with friends or clients, or stop to eat the prepared food they bought.
“We want it to have a community feel,” Hinkson said. “We want people to feel comfortable gathering in the space.”
Hannaford has focused the investment in store renovations on convenience for customers, but across a spectrum, said Ericka Dodge, spokesperson for the chain.
“These investments are really just a continuation of our commitment to quality, service and local [products],” she said.
The chain has also renovated stores in other states, part of a rolling renovation program.
Falmouth joins the stores in Westbrook, Gorham and Portland’s Riverside store with grand openings that began April 12 and run through May 5.
While they’re called “re-openings” the stores stay open during the remodels.
Signs in stores due for upgrades cheerfully let customers know. “Healthy upgrades are on the way!” says a sign near the pharmacy in the Augusta Whitten Road store, where a remodel is just starting.
Other recently completed remodels are in Topsham and Auburn. Both stores had re-opening events in March.
Re-openings for Scarborough and Lewiston were held last September — cafes, like the one in Falmouth, were added in both stores.
All of the renovations meant hundreds of produce and cheese products being added in each store, according to Hannaford news releases.
While many stores aren’t expanded during the work, the Bridgton store is undergoing a major renovation, with 10,000 square feet added. Most of that addition will be for the expanded produce section, kitchen and bakery, town planners were told last year.
Hannaford opened a 20,000-square-foot store in Mechanic Falls last year and will open a 50,000-square-foot one at Cook's Corner in Brunswick this year in space that previously housed Bookland. The Staples office supply store is moving to another unit in the mall to add room for the supermarket. The company also is renovating the downtown Brunswick Hannaford store on Maine Street.
Hannaford uses local contractors and suppliers in its renovation and building work, Dodge said. WBRC Architects, with offices in Bangor and Portland, has worked with Hannaford on more than 115 store projects across New England over the past several years.
“Each one, like the community each store serves, is unique,” WBRC says on its website, adding that changes customers may notice include new exterior facades, interior expansions and renovations, the addition of café-style seating, branded décor updates and improved entrances and parking. Many renovations are behind the scenes, including upgrades to refrigeration, HVAC, electrical, and data systems.
“While the individual project plans different, the goal of each renovation is to enhance safety, security, and energy-efficiency while simultaneously improving the customer experience,” WBRC said.
Hinkson said that with each project, the company must work with local boards to make sure ordinances are met.
Hannaford’s Cony Street Augusta store, when it opened in 2009, was the first LEED-certified grocery store in the country.
Stores built since follow those same energy and sustainability principles, Dodge said.
“All of our new stores are designed to LEED standards, including items like no VOC paints, high efficiency HVAC systems, high-efficiency lighting, using refrigeration gasses that have minimal impact to the climate,” she said.
During the tour of the Falmouth store, Travis Wiles, the assistant manager, demonstrated how night shades were added to coolers. They’re pulled down when the store is closed, helping keep the cold air in.
The shades are part of all the remodels, as well as more energy efficient lights, new doors for refrigerated cases, energy efficient cases and fixtures, upgrades to the refrigeration system to a more efficient system that reclaims latent heat from the system and using it to heat water and the store.
The stores are also certified through the Grocery Stewardship program run by Manomet, an environmental certification program designed to help stores, which are high energy users, reduce their carbon footprint.
“This ensures that sustainability practices have been optimized in each store,” Dodge said.
Hannaford, since 2016, has had a zero food waste program, with none of its waste from Maine and New Hampshire stores going to landfills. She said all of the chain’s stores, including in Massachusetts, Vermont and New York, are on track to have zero food waste by the end of 2019.
Last year, the chain donated nearly 26 million pounds of food, including 12.5 million in Maine, to hunger relief, including dairy, meat, produce and deli food.
Each store also makes connections with local livestock farmers to donate food that is not suitable for people but still safe and edible for animals.
“Our associates really demand it,” Hinkson said, of energy efficiency, food waste and other efforts. “They ask when they interview here. People want to work for a company that’s responsible.”
Dodge said that, depending on store size, a new store creates 100 to 140 jobs.
The remodels, particularly with the added kitchen and Hannaford To Go staff, adds two to 10 positions, depending on the size of the store and the scope of the services added.
“Hannaford to Go adds the most incremental employment because of the shoppers needed,” Dodge said. The service not only has “shopper” positions, but also “expediters,” who check orders and connect with customers.
While the chain is owned by the fifth-largest grocery retailer in the world, it strives to maintain its local roots, particularly in use of local products. The chain uses products from more than 800 local suppliers, according to its website.
“We’ve been rooted in the communities we serve for a long time — and so our customers know and trust us,” Dodge said.
During the recent tour of the Falmouth store, Darling, Hinkson, Dodge and Wiles pointed out new elements.
The fresh food area, which has a new laminate floor that looks like weathered barn board, also includes expanded salad and hot food bars. It is also one of the stores to add a stir-fry bar, where customers pick their ingredients for a flat price, then bring them to a counter, where a Hannaford employee adds a protein of the customer’s choice, and cooks it up for them.
Darling said since there aren’t a lot of food choices in that section of Falmouth — the store is on Gray Road, on the west side of town — area office workers have told her they’re happy to have so many choices.
While hot food selections change every day, she said the pot roast is so popular they include it often.
“People just love it,” she said.
Darling, who has worked for Hannaford since 1987 and managed the Falmouth store since 2016, said that the popularity of TV cooking shows has also had an impact on what customers are looking for.
Wiles agreed. “No one could pronounce quinoa,” he said. “But everyone knew they wanted it.”
Like Falmouth, the Westbrook store has added a stir-fry bar.
Renovation to the pharmacy in Falmouth included moving it to a corner area, where customers will have more privacy. Carpeting was added, as well as partitions at the counter and a private consultation room.
All four of the stores that are holding re-opening celebrations have an in-store sushi chef, hand-battered fried chicken, in-store prepared sandwiches and salads and a hot bar with entrée options.
Events at the re-opening celebration will include product samples from local vendors and the in-store kitchens and other activities. Each week features a different theme — Kitchen/Deli, Taste of Inspirations, Local and Wellness.
The stores celebrating their remodels are in Westbrook, at 7 Hannaford Drive, Portland at 787 Riverside St., Gorham, at 99 Main St., and the Falmouth store, at 65 Gray Road.
In conjunction with customer appreciation event, each store also will announce recipients of a community donation.