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Cains Foods of Ayer sold for $35 million

TreeHouse Foods of Ill. won’t move century-old operation

Cains Foods LP of Ayer, a familiar name on store shelves for many decades, is passing the mayo.

The owner of Cains agreed Monday to sell the company that makes a variety of condiments but is best known in New England for its mayonnaise. TreeHouse Foods Inc., a food manufacturer based in Illinois, will buy Cains for $35 million in cash.

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A TreeHouse spokesman said the Cains operation will remain in Ayer, where about 100 employees work, but declined to answer questions about the transaction.

The sale will take place just a year ahead of Cains’ 100th anniversary. John E. Cain started the business in 1914 as a cheese distributor based in Boston’s Faneuil Hall Market Place and began selling mayonnaise a decade later. Over many years, the business grew and moved to accommodate its expansion, relocating first to Cambridge and eventually to Ayer.

Cains bought companies to expand into other food specialities, making potato chips at a landmark factory in Medford and processing pickles elsewhere, thought it exited both businesses later.

The Cain family continued to own the company until it was sold to a Dutch food conglomerate in 1986. Cains was purchased nine years later by the current owner, Denis J. Keaveny.

Today, Cains generates about $80 million in annual revenues. Though best known for mayonnaise, it mainly sells salad dressings and other sauces. The company also owns Naturally Delicious, a line of salad dressings and barbecue sauces, as well as Olde Cape Cod, which makes tartar and cocktail sauces.

‘‘Cains has a nearly 100-year tradition of manufacturing high quality products, and this is a very good business with experienced management and a dedicated team of employees,’’ TreeHouse chief executive Sam K. Reed said in a statement.

The majority of Cains products are sold in grocery stores, as well as directly to hotels and school cafeterias. The company also markets itself as a private label company, manufacturing food products for grocery stores and other retailers.

TreeHouse Foods generates more than $2 billion in annual sales from a variety of products. Its bestsellers, nondairy creamers and pickles, account for about 30 percent of revenues.

Gail Waterhouse can be reached at gail.waterhouse@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @gailwaterhouse.
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