Dozens of jobs are at risk in Moray after Baxters confirmed it is considering closing its Highland Village cafe, shop and museum permanently due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The four-star attraction welcomed more than 200,000 visitors a year at its peak to the soup giant’s historic home in Fochabers.
The complex shut on Christmas Eve due to the coronavirus pandemic but was expected to reopen again once restrictions allowed.
However, now Baxters has confirmed it is considering closing the doors to the Highland Village permanently.
Pandemic makes future of Highland Village ‘untenable’
Yesterday the food manufacturer the pandemic had amplified challenges for the hospitality and retail sectors – making the future of the site “untenable”.
It is understood that about 30 jobs could be affected by the potential closure. Factory operations will not be affected by the decision.
Moray MP Douglas Ross said: “The possible loss of Baxters Highland Village would be a big blow to the local economy.
“The restaurant and shops have been a big draw for people passing through or visiting Moray.
“Clearly the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting restrictions are having a devastating impact on our tourism and hospitality sector in Moray, and across the whole country.
“There is never a good time to lose your job, but this would be a bitter blow to the staff at this really difficult time.”
Highland Village told story of Baxters’ rise
Before the pandemic, the Baxters Highland Village regularly catered for international visitors.
The site’s proximity to the A96 Aberdeen to Inverness road made it popular with coach tours carrying people from home and abroad.
The attraction includes a recreation of the soup giant’s first shop, which was opened by George Baxter in Fochabers in 1869.
Inside, the visitor centre told the story of how the firm rose from a village store selling groceries to one of Scotland’s most recognisable brands worldwide.
The site also included a large cafe and shops, which sold produce made in the factory that operates just yards away.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson toured the attraction in July last year on a visit to Moray – recommending people visit it for themselves.
Fochabers Lhanbryde councillor Marc Macrae said: “News that the Baxters Highland Village may not be reopening once the coronavirus restrictions are eased will come as a shock.
“It is very popular locally and wider afield with tourist coaches being regular visitors.
“The possible closure and the loss of jobs would have big impact on the local community in Fochabers.
“It is the last thing this area needs in the middle of a pandemic when so many people and businesses are facing difficulties.”
Baxters holding talks with affected staff
Baxters moved its head office from the Fochabers site to Edinburgh in 2018 as part of its plans for worldwide growth.
At the time, the food manufacturer employed more than 400 people at its historic Speyside base.
It is understood that Baxters will present different options to the staff affected by the Highlands Village closing to avoid as many redundancies as possible.
A spokeswoman confirmed only the restaurant and retail operations were affected by the closure.
She said: “We are currently in a consultation process with employees at our Highland Village restaurant and retail outlet in Fochabers regarding the potential closure of the site.
“Like many hospitality and retail businesses, the pandemic has exacerbated the already challenging trading conditions meaning the future of the Highland Village is untenable.”