HOW do we define the controversy over Hebridean Sea Salt and its abrupt exit from supermarket shelves and five-star restaurant kitchens? Heavy handed bureaucracy or a simple case of tackling consumer deception about the origins of a product sold as a premium brand?

The stand-off between Food Standards Scotland and erstwhile Harris entrepreneur Natalie Crayton hit the headlines this week. Ms Crayton’s business, Hebridean Sea Salt, has effectively collapsed after concerns arose about the provenance of its product.

Western Islands Council sent inspectors to premises on the shores of remote Loch Erisort, following a tip-off that all may not be as it appeared. Hebridean marketed its salt as made “from crystal clear seawater surrounding one of the most unspoilt coastlines in the world”. FSS declared damningly that “over 80 per cent of the salt found in Hebridean Sea Salt did not originate in the Hebrides, but was imported table salt”. It was an unusually forthright statement, in reaction to Ms Crayton’s claims to have been “bullied” by heavy-handed officials who were driving her young business over an abyss.

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Hebridean Sea Salt, formed in 2010, portrayed itself as an exciting young business providing pure Scottish sea salt harvested in the Western Isles. Ms Crayton, once nominated as “mumpreneur of the year”, earned plenty of sympathetic coverage of how she created the business. Big orders followed. Hebridean supplied leading restaurants in Scotland and elsewhere. Its products, sold at a substantial premium, reached the shelves of Sainsbury’s supermarkets. Hebridean Sea Salt has been lauded by government agencies, and used as a promotion for Business Gateway. It won an “excellence award” from the industry body Scotland Food and Drink in 2013. That body, as well as Highlands & Islands Enterprise and the Prince’s Youth Business Trust provided backing of £175,000 to the business.

Ms Crayton claims to have disclosed that she “seeded” her salt with material sourced from outside Scotland, but the response from FSS contradicts her version of events.

Here is the issue: Scottish food and drinks companies build their reputation on provenance. From fresh salmon through Stornoway Black Pudding and Highland Crowdie cheese, manufacturers trade on the image of Scotland as a source of fresh, natural food. This is one of the country’s few industries to enjoy sustained growth, especially in export markets.

An incident such as that concerning Hebridean threatens Scotland’s reputation as a reliable source of quality food in a market that relies on consumers “trusting the brand”. That is why the FSS has to clamp down on alleged miscreants, and – just as importantly – to be seen to do so.

But the case also raises the question of what checks are made on businesses who make claims about their products, as they receive public funds, receive awards and ride the wave of publicity generated by agencies who seem desperate to promote “good news”. A little early scrutiny may have helped avoid the embarrassment resulting from this salty island affair.