When renowned family butchers Philip Warren & Son was suddenly hit with a wave of complaints about the quality of its meat – as well as other products it didn’t even produce – the owners were perplexed.
The sixth-generation Cornish butchers pride themselves on supplying award-winning, grass-fed beef to Michelin-starred restaurants such as The Ledbury in London and Rick Stein’s bistro in Padstow.
But customers started moaning that its black pudding was ‘inedible’ and, worse, one had found blue plastic inside its Lincolnshire sausages – a product the firm does not make.
Philip Warren & Son (pictured, Ian Warran, right and Philip Warren) began trading in 1880
The problem, as the owners of Philip Warren & Son soon discovered, was not that their standards had slipped. Instead, supermarket Lidl had created a fake brand – called Warren & Sons – to market cut-price meat products. The range also included bacon, sausages and pâtés, some of which had been produced in Czech factories. One customer complained: ‘If this is the best Philip Warren can come up with, I’d give him a severe slap!’
The firm is now suing the supermarket for ‘passing off’ its name by trying to ‘deceive consumers into believing the meat was sourced from an English butcher’.
Philip Warren & Son began trading as WW Davey in 1880 but its practices, including farming only on Bodmin Moor, are largely unchanged. Today it turns over at least £11 million a year, has a farm shop in Launceston and employs about 100 staff.
Managing director Ian Warren, 42, whose father Philip took over in 1979, said: ‘We’ve got a great product and a loyal customer base. I can’t tell you how upsetting it was to get emails complaining about poor-quality meat that was nothing to do with us.
‘My father has spent 40 years trying to be the best. You work so hard to get the reputation and it’s tainted overnight. What Lidl did is wrong, it’s morally unfair. We had to take a stand.’
The first he knew about Lidl’s Warren & Sons brand came in December 2015 when he got an email from one of the supermarket’s customers in Somerset, asking if any other butchers stocked its gammon steaks because ‘Lidl didn’t always have them’.
The firm was sent pictures of Lidl products, asking if they had started to supply to them
He assumed it was a mistake. But emails and phone complaints began to grow. ‘There were comments in the shop,’ Mr Warren said. ‘Friends sent me pictures of Lidl’s products, asking if we were supplying them. We had never trademarked our name. It didn’t occur to us we needed to.’
Documents lodged at the High Court show Lidl received complaints from customers who were confused about the origin of the products. One, ironically, voiced concern about the damage Warrens was doing to Lidl’s ‘good name’ by ‘hiding’ fatty, gristly slices of meat under a good top layer. Another even suggested the supermarket should look into Warrens’ packaging factory after they bought a product that ‘looked mouldy and was obviously not fit to eat’. Another complaint simply said: ‘Get Warren & Sons to supply better products.’
The case was heard remotely by deputy High Court judge Daniel Alexander in February. A verdict is expected within the next month.
To Mr Warren, however, the damage has been done. He said: ‘Lidl set out to create a brand and make customers believe they’re buying a provincial, English butcher’s product. To do that and sell products with foreign meat baffles me. They’re pulling the wool over customers’ eyes.
Mr Warren said he did not realise he had a claim until he met an intellectual property lawyer
‘I’m not anti-supermarket – they do a great job. They play their role and we play ours. But at the minute they want to play their role and have a bit of our role by tricking people.’
It was not until he met an intellectual property lawyer by chance in 2018 that he realised he had a claim.
Lawyer Julius Stobbs, founder of Stobbs IP, who took on the case, said: ‘Philip Warren & Son is a real David and Goliath case. As time has gone by the supermarkets – and there are few that don’t do this – have got bolder about creating copycat products.’
Meat in Lidl was sold under its Hazelmeade Farm label until 2014, when it had a rebrand, asking designers to come up a name to ‘hone in on the provincial English butchers’. ‘Warren & Sons’ launched in 2015, but has now been removed from shelves.
Lidl claimed in court that the complaint was filed too late after the brand’s launch, and said the butcher was too small to be badly affected.
Lidl GB said: ‘This is an ongoing court case, so we cannot comment.’