IT’S been fighting a long battle in the current store wars, and now supermarket giant Tesco is caught up in a damaging international row that has already been dubbed ‘strawberrygate’.

As with just about every row these days it all started on social media when Scotswoman Eileen Brown tweeted that the strawberries she normally buys from her local Tesco, labelled “Scottish Strawberries” and showing the Perthshire farm where they were picked, had changed packaging and the Saltire flag denoting Scottish origin had been replaced with the Union Flag.

Eileen then tweeted @Tesco asking, “@Tesco used to mark Scottish produce with saltire (our flag). Now you use Union flag. Plse say why. Is it #casualracism?

Somewhat to Brown’s amazement, Tesco tweeted back to her.

@Tesco replied, “Hi Eileen, over the past year, we received several customer complaints regarding Scottish flags on strawberries in England.”

The genie was now out of the bottle, and Tesco couldn’t put it back in, so they explained: “English customers criticised us why we do not apply the English flag on English berries and why we do for Scottish berries.

“When the category went through corporate redesign it was decided to have British packaging only to avoid further criticism.

“Product origin is printed on each punnet, i.e. customers in Scotland will be allocated with Scottish fruit and this is visible.”

Clearly someone at Tesco realised that their sales in Scotland might well be affected, for in an updated statement, the supermarket said: “To provide consistency for customers, we mark all of our homegrown fresh berries with a Union flag.

“The country of origin is also clearly displayed on pack.”

Too late! Social media erupted with anger at the snub to Scotland by the removal of Saltire, the white “x” on blue that signifies the cross of St Andrew, patron saint of Scotland who was crucified on such an x-shaped cross.

Paul Donaldson tweeted: “As a shareholder, I hope you will be putting the Scottish flag back on packets on strawberries/raspberries if grown in Scotland.”

Another tweet stated: “So if you receive several complaints about the Union flag on Scottish produce from Scotland you will stop that as well?”

The 45% account wrote: “Wish to complain about use of union flag. Represents xenophobia and genocide the world over. Please remove from products!”

Another tweet came from Elaine Rowe: “Boycotting @Tesco from now on over strawberry re-branding just because it showed the saltire and stated they were Scottish #epicfail.”

Eileen Brown was also far from pacified by Tesco’s stance: “What have Scottish fruit farmers done to make English hate them?”

And as with just about any row on any media these days, the questions soon turned political, with the First Minister, no less, asked at a press conference for her views about the removal of the Saltire.

Nicola Sturgeon said: “Perhaps we should reflect and wonder what the response might be if this story was in reverse and the Union Jack was removed from packaging because of complaints in Scotland.

“So hopefully in whatever way this happens, common sense will prevail.”

She added: “Strawberries from Scotland are just the best strawberries, and that’s why we should eat them, not because of the flag that happens to be on the packaging.” It took a social media user called atheist vegan to explain what happened from an English point of view.

He wrote: “I’m one of those English folk who has complained to several supermarkets about the use of the Scottish flag on products from Scotland. Not because I object to Scottich (sic) produce being marked with a Scottish flag per se; but because those same supermarkets would never mark English products with an English flag but would always plaster that stinking union flag onto the packaging instead.”