"Come to ask me impertinent questions, eh?" growls Gordon Baxter, with an ogreish grin. "Want to know what my turnover is, I suppose. My profits." Gulp. This could be the first recorded case of a journalist being sent back to his editor in a tin. "Well, I'll tell you. Turnover, £30 million this year, with profits at £3 million. £35 million next year, profits of £3.5 million. So there." Baxter explodes in rubicund laughter, bangs a tweed-clad fist on his desk. "Ha. The Bank of Scotland owes me money."
The story so far. In 1868, Gordon Baxter's grandfather, George, opened a grocery shop in the pretty little Speyside village of Fochabers. In 1914, George's son, Gordon's father, William Baxter, expanded into a small plant devoted to bottling the popular produce of his jam-making wife, Ethel. Seventy-seven years later, WA Baxter and Sons, Limited, are purveyors of food to, among others, Their Majesties The Queen (canned fruit), Queen Mother (Scottish food specialities), the King of Sweden (unspecified) as well as to innumerable commoners in 60 countries worldwide. Backing up marmalade and Baxters' most famous product - Royal Game Soup, sold in tins decked out in family tartan and stags courtesy of Landseer - the company now has 450 other discrete product lines, including (most unLandseerishly) a range of vegetarian soups, introduced three years ago.
Despite its burgeoning size, Baxters of Speyside, the holding company of WA Baxter and Sons, remains entirely family owned. It also provides employment for a similarly burgeoning range of Baxter progeny, including Ian Baxter (brother of chairman Gordon), and Andrew, Michael and Audrey Baxter, Gordon's three adopted children. George Baxter's wooden village shop remains, symbolically, the centrepiece of this family affair, its brass and mahogany shelves still polished daily with religious reverence. Lest all of this sound like a story of the triumph of corporate fuddy-duddiness, let us look more closely at George's shop. It may still contain the original apothecary's drawers in which Ethel kept her spices, and its faintly perturbed-looking staff may still sport whiskers and bonnets, but one thing has changed, and radically: its location. Until 1968, the building stood in downtown Fochabers. Due to be replaced by a pair of bungalows, Gordon Baxter had the whole lot uprooted, dismantled, moved a mile down the road, and re-mantled. In any other family, this action might have seemed like a mere quirk of familial sentimentality. Not, however, in the Baxters. As Audrey, ex-City merchant banker and head of corporate development, candidly puts it, George's shop has now become "a little cash cow" attracting 167,000 visitors a year. Appetites first whetted by a promotional video, these same visitors, bussed in from all over the country, part with "in excess of £1 million a year" on everything from tinned grouse to gingerbread men.