When Rob Foster found a half-dozen old cans of B&M Baked Beans sitting on a nearly empty supermarket shelf a couple months ago, he was elated.

“When I saw the Portland address I felt as though I had struck gold,” said Foster, 36, a writer and editor who lives in Portland. “The new cans are just inferior, not as cooked, a little crunchier. There’s more water, it’s not thick and gooey. Beans are a comfort food. You don’t expect baked beans to snap. ”

Foster has eaten one of his precious cans of old beans – made before Portland’s B&M factory closed in late 2021 – and found them as tasty as always. He is rationing the rest to make them last as long as possible. When his old can stash runs out, he says, he’ll probably go looking for a new favorite brand.

B&M loyalists around Maine and across the country have a bad taste in their mouths these days after discovering their favorite beans, now made at several factories in the Midwest, are just not the same. People on social media have complained that the beans are too firm or even crunchy, more like canned black beans, and that there’s too much liquid. Others say the taste is wrong, too sweet for some. Some folks have posted pictures of a slimy goop on top of the beans in the can.

“When I opened the can there was a layer of slime on top and the beans had all settled into the bottom and I had to go after them with a spoon,” said Joanne Carey, 62, a Massachusetts native living in California. “They were too hard. I cooked some for two hours on the stove just to get them a little more mushy.”

Changing the taste and texture of B&M Baked Beans is like changing history. Burnham & Morrill Co. began canning vegetables, meats and fish in Portland in 1867, built the factory that still stands near Casco Bay in 1913 and began selling their beans in 1927. Beyond that, baked beans are integral to the cultural history of Maine and all of New England, the standard Saturday night supper for generations and a food staple that has maintained popularity for some 200 years. Bean-baking at home can be an all-day process, so lots of people turn to B&M for their baked bean fix.


Giant pots filled with beans, at Portland’s B&M factory in August of 2021. The pots were lowered into top-loading ovens for baking. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“I think baked beans are still hugely popular with a certain generation, but I think the habit of cooking them from scratch is being lost,” said Nancy Harmon Jenkins, 85, a food writer and historian from Camden. “You still see them being made for community suppers. And I always hear about Mainers going to Florida in the winter and the first thing they do is make beans and have other people come over for supper.”

Dozens of people on Reddit and Facebook have shared their sad bean stories in recent weeks, along with speculation about why this affront happened and what to do about it. Some believe the beans are being steamed now rather than baked. Others say the beans don’t taste the same because B&G Foods, B&M’s parent company, didn’t take the huge iron bean pots to the new facilities and that those pots somehow held the secret to the beans’ flavor. Several B&M employees told the Press Herald that workers were allowed to take the pots home with them, which some did, for use as flower planters and fire pits.

Some disgruntled bean eaters have become sleuths, figuring out how to tell a good can (made in Portland) from a bad one (not made in Portland). Foster and others have found a few cans still on grocery shelves that say “Burnham & Morrill” and have an address of “Portland, ME 04103” on the back label.

Foster checked the label after eating a sub-par “new” can of beans earlier this year and found the New Jersey address. But he also had a can left in his cupboard with a Portland address, which prompted him to check for more Portland cans at his neighborhood supermarket. And that’s how he found his precious old can stash. Most cans on store shelves now say “Distributed by B&G Foods Inc., Parsippany, NJ, 07054” and make no mention of Portland.

Rob Foster and his daughter Theodora, 2, with their stash of hard-to-find B&M beans made in Portland. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

The reason there are still older, Portland-made cans on the shelves is that most B&M cans have a use-by date of about two years after they were made, former employees said. Cans found by the Press Herald in Greater Portland with the Portland address had use-by dates in the early months of 2023, meaning they were likely made in 2021, while cans with the New Jersey address had use by dates in the middle of 2024.

The Portland-made cans also say “Brick Oven Baked” as part of the B&M logo, but on the New Jersey cans that phrase has been replaced by “A New England Tradition.”


David Rickett of Raymond is among those who think the beans may be steamed now. Rickett was a B&M production supervisor in Portland for about 20 years, until his retirement in 2019, and says beans there were always baked. At the Portland plant, the beans were mixed with spices, molasses and other ingredients in iron pots that weighed 200 pounds empty and more than 900 pounds when filled. The pots were then lowered into top-loading ovens – some were brick while newer ones were metal – and baked for about three to four hours. The main heat source was below the pot, but tubes carried heat to the top of the oven as well, Rickett said.

Rickett said B&M’s owners had experimented with steamed beans over the years, but the method was never used for production. Rickett said he’s tried some of the newer cans and “didn’t care for them.” He said the lighter color he saw and less satisfying flavor could be a result of steaming instead of baking.

“When you don’t bake, you don’t have the beans turning over and going back and fourth with the sugars and water,” said Rickett, 68, who worked at B&M for 46 years. “The beans we used to make were as close to homemade as you could get. We took a lot of pride in that.”

The speculation among B&M buffs is just that, however. B&G Foods did not return several phone calls and emails from the Press Herald asking where and how the beans are made now. When B&G Foods officials announced that the Portland factory would cease production by the end of 2021, they said the beans would be made at a B&G plant in Iowa and third-party factories in Illinois and Minnesota, but did not name specific locations. B&G makes more than 50 food brands, including Cream of Wheat, Crisco, Ortega, Green Giant, Maple Grove Farms and McCann’s Irish Oatmeal. B&M Baked Beans were made exclusively in Portland.

B&G Foods announced in August of 2021 that it was selling the Portland factory to a nonprofit group representing the Roux Institute at Northeastern University, with plans to develop a high-tech graduate school and business center. The last B&M beans were made in Portland in early December of 2021, according to employees and union officials.

The B&M factory in Portland, seen here in 2021, has been a local landmark for more than 100 years, visible to anyone passing through the city on I-295. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

The B&M website has a history blurb which says that in 1913 B&M moved “to its present site on Casco Bay, also in Portland.” There’s a B&M history timeline on the website that begins in 1867 but ends with B&G Foods buying B&M from Pillsbury in 1999.


A scan of each can’s labels showed that the ingredients were the same regardless of where they were made, but the nutritional values were not, meaning different amounts of ingredients were used. The can with a New Jersey address listed 7 grams of fiber to 8 grams on the Portland can, for instance. The New Jersey can also had 18 grams of added sugars compared to 16 grams on the Portland can.

The lower fiber number could mean the company is using fewer beans now, to cut costs, said Sandy Oliver, a food historian and writer from Islesboro. And more sugar might mean less molasses is being used or that the makers want a sweeter bean, said Rickett.

A tale of two cans: One says it was made in Portland and one says only it’s distributed by a company in New Jersey. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Though B&G stopped making B&M beans in Portland in December of last year, it took a while for some bean fans to discover the new batches were different. Because most B&M cans have a “best by” date about two years after they were made, they can be on store shelves for a while.

Drew Buckley, 64, of Cape Elizabeth only discovered the difference in early October, when he cooked up a can with some hot dogs. He had last had the beans in the summer and didn’t notice any changes. But the batch he heated up in October were harder than he likes – more like black beans, he said – and had more water. He suspected they had been steamed and said they were flavorless.

Buckley wondered if he just gotten a bad batch, so he posted about his experience on Reddit to see if anyone else had found the new B&M beans to be harder, watery and lacking in taste. He discovered several other people shared his displeasure.

“I’ll try them again, but if they’re the same, maybe I’ll have to start buying Bush beans,” he said.

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