Since 1924, Cains mayonnaise has been the mayo of choice for many New Englanders, adding flavor to dressings, salads, sandwiches, and cold lobster rolls.
By Aimee Tucker
Jun 29 2022
Since 1924, Cains Mayonnaise has been the local brand of choice for many New Englanders for adding flavor to dressings, salads, and sandwiches, including the cold lobster roll. We often hear from readers on social media that their lobster roll, when prepared cold, must be dressed with Cains Mayonnaise — no exceptions. Curious, we decided to take a look back at the local brand with the loyal following, and the larger world of regional and national mayonnaise brands.
John E. Cain opened his first cheese distribution company in Boston in 1914, but as his product line expanded to include mayonnaise (a condiment made from oil, egg yolks, and vinegar), he looked for ways to make a better mayonnaise that wouldn’t separate. Eventually, Cains All Natural Mayonnaise was formulated and introduced — a mayo that stayed smooth and creamy in both texture and appearance.
Before long, new Cains products like sandwich spread (mayonnaise with relish and spices), tartar sauce (mayonnaise with pickles or relish and sometimes dill), and dressings were introduced, and were also a success. The family-run company took on the potato chip market from the 1930s up until 1981 (many still remember the Cains potato chip plant on the Mystic Valley Parkway in Medford), and pickles starting in 1955.
In 1986, the company was sold and its product line expanded, but still under the Cains name. Another sale in 1995 refocused the brand’s historic reputation for superior taste and quality, which included selling the pickle division in 2000 in order to concentrate on Cains mayonnaise, dressings, sandwich spread, and tartar sauce. The most recent sale occurred in 2013, when Cains was acquired by the Illinois-based TreeHouse Foods, but the company’s Ayer, Massachusetts, headquarters is still the home of Cains manufacturing.
As America’s #1 selling condiment (yes, mayo outsells even ketchup), I’ve learned that folks nationwide are passionate about their favorite brand of mayonnaise, and New England is no different. For those not in the Cain’s camp, another East Coast favorite is Hellmann’s (Best Foods on the West Coast), which a friend of mine (and fellow New Englander) prefers because she says it’s “savory, eggy, and thick, while Cains is too sweet.” Cains fans, on the other hand, praise the brand’s well-balanced flavor (“just right, without too much lemon or vinegar”) and accuse Hellmann’s of not being all-natural. Others still prefer Kraft mayo or the “tangy zip” of Miracle Whip, and there are Southern brands like Duke’s and Blue Plate that I’d never even heard of. Who know the world of mayo was such a minefield?
If it’s not Cains mayonnaise, which brand is YOUR favorite? And how do you like it? In a lobster roll? On a turkey sandwich? As the basis of homemade tartar sauce? For getting a stubborn ring off your finger?
I never thought I’d say this, but share those mayo memories!
This post was first published in 2014 and has been updated.