Ena Baxter: a pioneer of Scotland’s food industry

Ena Baxter, née Robertson, was a cook, painter and businesswoman, who became one of the UK’s wealthiest women in the 1990s.

This was down to her work at the Baxters food processing company, where she created some of their best selling soups. She was also the main figure of the firm’s advertising campaign in the 1970s.

In 1995, she told an interviewer: “Everybody who has ever been a success has had to go through the sleepless nights. There’s a price to be paid for having a business. I have given a lot, I suppose.”

Ena joined Baxters in 1952, after she had married the managing director Gordon. By the time she and Gordon left the company in 1992, Baxters had an annual turnover of £45 million and was exporting products to over 30 countries across the world. She once said: “I can read a recipe and know what it will taste like. I can eat something and know exactly what is in it. It’s a bit like making perfume but instead of a nose, I’ve got a mouth.”

Ena Baxter: Matriarch of the famous broth company who was known as Scotlands soup queen. Picture: PA

Ena Baxter: Matriarch of the famous broth company who was known as Scotlands soup queen. Picture: PA

Ena was born in 1924 at Drumblair House, near Forgue, and grew up in Huntly, Aberdeenshire. She had ambitions to become an artist, but the Second World War put an end to these hopes. After spending the war working at a Food Research facility, she became an art teacher at the school in Fochabers, Moray. This was where she met her future husband, Gordon Baxter.

After their wedding, the couple moved into a cottage beside the Baxters factory. One evening, she prepared an adapted version of Louisiana chicken gumbo soup for Gordon. He was so impressed by her skill as a cook that he asked her to join him in working at Baxters.

Ena first few weeks at the company were very frustrating as every recipe for gumbo soup she tried failed to work. After watching the 1943 film Marie Curie, which depicts Curie’s struggle as a scientist before discovering radium, she decided to carry on experimenting. At last, she succeeded, and Baxters sold one million cans of her gumbo soup within a year.

As well as improving Baxters old Royal Game recipe, she also developed new jams, chutneys, and a tomato soup recipe. Although she fought her corner, her cream of leek soup didn’t make the cut, but her version of Gordon’s favourite soup, cock-a-leekie, became one of Baxters’ best loved products. Ena’s cock-a-leekie was exported to Japan, while other products were sold in Italy, the Middle East and Korea.

Ena’s Cullen Skink was a favourite of Prince Philip’s, helping Baxters gain three royal warrants. Thanks to Ena’s tireless efforts, Baxters was granted royal warrants of appointment by Queen Elizabeth II, the Queen Mother and King Gustav VI of Sweden.

In 1974, Ena released her own cookbook, “Ena Baxter’s Scottish Cookbook”, firmly establishing the image of Baxters as a family business. On the cover of the book, she was shown wearing a tartan skirt while presiding over a woodland picnic, a symbol of happy family life. This image was instrumental in the success of Baxters television adverts during the 1970s, of which Ena was the star.

Gordon and Ena adopted three children, two boys and a girl. In 1992, their daughter Audrey took over the business, allowing the couple to retire. Ena rediscovered her love of painting, and raised thousands of pounds for charity with her husband. The couple also gave large donations to the National Galleries of Scotland.

In 2013, Ena faced tragedy, as both her husband an her son, Michael, died. She followed them in 2015, dying at the grand old age of 90. Her relentless hard work and creativity, as well as her business savvy, made Baxters a success, and her legacy lives on in her surviving children, Audrey and Andrew. Audrey is currently the Executive Chairman of Baxters, making sure Baxters remains a family business.

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