Award-winning Hebridean Sea Salt, which marketed itself as harvested "by hand" in Loch Erisort on the Isle of Lewis, was this week revealed to have ceased production amid an investigation by the Western Isles Council and Food Standards Scotland. Its website and social media sites have been taken down, while the product is listed as "not available" on its stockists's websites.
Owner Natalie Crayton claimed in an interview this week that the investigation had "destroyed" her growing business, claiming that "seeding" - where foreign salt crystals are added to sea water, was a common practice in the industry.
But in an unusual move amid an active food investigation, FSS today issued a statement saying that the probe had revealed that the sea salt sold by the firm contained 80 per cent “imported table salt” and warned that the firm’s actions could damage the reputation of Scotland’s artisan foods.
A spokeswoman for Food Standards Scotland said: "We would not normally disclose the details of an active and ongoing investigation. However, given the coverage of this case, we believe it is now in the public interest to disclose the issues that are under investigation.
"This is not simply a case of mis-labelling. Investigations discovered 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 is Food Standards Scotland’s view that, whilst this is not a food safety issue, deception of consumers on this scale is not acceptable and could damage Scotland’s well-deserved reputation for high quality, authentic food and drink products."
It emerged in February that an investigation had been launched into the artisan company, which was the recipient of a Great Taste Award and whose products have been lauded by celebrity chefs for being the "purest, tastiest sea salt" available. The salt retailed for around Â£5.99 for a 500g bag.
Hebridean Sea Salt has seen recent growth, successfully securing an order from supermarket giant Sainsbury's, which sells the products at its 360 stores in a deal worth Â£180,000.
It also received funding from Highlands and Islands Enterprise, which contributed Â£174,573 to help expand the business.
Ms Crayton has not yet responded to requests for comment.