Mey Selections, the fine-food brand backed by Prince Charles, has denied accusations that it has sold out from its original ethos by signing up with a large meat producer and distributor.
The company, set up a year ago and managed by North Highland Products (NHP), gives farmers in the north of Scotland a route to market.
It has been a success, with turnover of £2m in its first year, but a row has broken out after Irish food processor Dunbia was granted exclusive rights to slaughter and handle its carcasses and appointed Pioneer Foodservice as sole food service distributor.
The move upset London butcher Billfield's, which had been an early champion of the brand through its relationship with independent processor Millers of Speyside, which was working alongside Dunbia initially.
A source at Billfield's, whose clients include Gordon Ramsay and the Dorchester hotel, said: "Prince Charles would no doubt argue the initiative was set up to give local crofters a route to market, which it has done. But the move away from a bespoke butcher such as ourselves to an enormous meat producer and distributor seemed at odds with its original ethos."
But Barry Garrett, commercial director at Pioneer, refuted the claim. "This is a premium product," he said. "We feel it should be available to as wide an audience as possible and not just top-end restaurants in London."
Farmer Danny Miller, chairman of NHP, said the decision to go with Dunbia made sense as it had been handling 70-80% of the carcasses anyway. "I'm confident the expansion of the brand will be handled without any loss in quality," he said.
Billfield's has set up a rival Highland brand, Ballindalloch, with Millers to lock horns with Mey Selections.
By Chris Druce