BAXTERS of Speyside, the 133-year-old family-owned food group which has turned down nearly 100 takeover offers, has gone on the acquisition trail.

Baxters has acquired Garner Foods, a pickles, chutneys and salad dressings specialist founded 12 years ago in Worcestershire by Judy Gardner.

Garner's has sales of around (pounds) 5m, with a customer base that includes multiple, independent and specialist outlets, and will boost Baxter's turnover by almost 10%.

Audrey Baxter, the 39-year-old great-grand-daughter of the company's founder who took over as chief

executive last year, said: ''This purchase is another phase in the continuing expansion of Baxters food operations, and strengthens our portfolio in the pickles sector, where we are already brand leaders in beetroot.

''Garner's is a like-minded, family-run company with an appealing range of products that are manufactured to the highest standards, using the best ingredients.

''We believe our experience, knowledge, resources and passion can now help to ensure that the company continues

to achieve its fullest potential,'' she added.

Garner's Foods employs

40 people and will continue

to be run from its

current base at Pershore in Worcestershire.

Baxters employs up to 900 people in the north-east of Scotland making its soups, sauces and jams, and has recently opened a marketing office in Glasgow and built a (pounds) 10m fresh food plant in Grimsby, Humberside.

The group exports 10% of its turnover but hopes to increase that proportion at the same time as doubling in size over the next few years.

Baxters' visitor centre, at Fochabers in Morayshire, attracts some 230,000 tourists a year.