It ain’t easy being green…?

I walk into Real Foods probably a couple of times a month – to buy bread-making supplies, or half a kilo of the gorgeous dark chewy organic unsulphured apricots that taste more intense that the squishy bright orange variety, or pick out some rosemary or oregano from the deep drawers at the back of the shop, or refresh my spice supply from the alphabetically-ordered shelves to the right of the door, past the shelves of gluten-free flours, next to enough organic fair trade coffee to keep the Incredible Hulk awake for a week… I’ve been shopping there since they opened: though I admit 37 years ago I was probably more interested in their supplies of organic and dairy-free sweets and chocolates than anything else.

On 6th September 2011, Edinburgh Council suddenly noticed that a shop in Broughton Street, part of a terraced classical tenement, listed Category A, located within the New Town Conservation Area and the Edinburgh World Heritage Site, had signage which would have an effect “on the character of the building as one of special architectural or historic interest.” So they issued a formal notice to have the signage taken down.

This is bad news for Cafe Piccante, which has been displaying bright neon advertising for their fast food:
Cafe Piccante on Broughton Street

Or is it bad news for the general grocers just across the road and a bit down:
Lifestyle general grocers on Broughton Street

Or maybe for Concrete Wardrobe – quite far down Broughton Street but still within the New Town Conservation Area and the Edinburgh World Heritage Site:
Concrete Wardrobe on Broughton Street

The Evening News reported on 23rd November last year:

the council said illuminated advertisements on businesses were not allowed in conservation areas without consent. Officers said the main sign obscured important features of the listed building, called the notice above the door “an unsympathetic and incongruous addition”, and described the colour of the repainted doors as “garish”.

A council spokeswoman said: “The works that Real Foods have carried out are unauthorised. We have served statutory notices as the works have a significant and detrimental impact on the character of the listed building and the amenity of the surrounding area.

“The council has to balance the needs of businesses promoting their services and protecting the built environment, and we help local shops achieve this by publishing guidance on appropriate signage.”

Clearly The Phoenix is in trouble.
The Phoenix pub on Broughton Street

They also noticed that a shop on Broughton Street had an illuminated sign with the company logo and the webaddress, which is bad news for Joey D on Broughton Street: on Broughton Street

Well, no. None of those businesses has had a notice to take down their signage or their advertising. Just Real Foods.
Real Foods on Broughton Street

Qype reviews:

  • Real Foods is an Edinburgh institution and a great resource ( also at another location near Tollcross ). Even in the days when a lot of “health foods ” were hard to track down you could get them here. These days they have maintained their low frills eco vibe. A lot of produce is available by weight from sacks, minimising waste. Many otherwise hard to find organic, vegan or raw products are sold here. Also a good range of all types of dried fruits and more unsual foreign items. There is a very good range of high cocoa content chocolate from the likes of Montezuma’s And also a section with all kinds of “natural” cosmetics, shampoos etc as well as vitamins and similar items. 2008
  • What an excellent shop too. I live nearby and although I’ve popped in once, I’d not really taken in the extent of what they offer in there. I was particularly impressed with their range of fancy dairy-free products (the booja booja range of chocolates and ice cream really is tasty) as I’m often entertaining a dairy-intolerant acquaintance and never quite find the right non life-threatening reaction inducing sweet offering. So hosanna for that! March 2011
  • A shop for the healthy person in you! Organic, fresh and good-for-you produce. Excellent selection of tea. December 2011

The List:

With over 30 years trading and a product range of over 10,000 natural, organic, health and wholefood lines, Real Foods is the largest Scottish retailer of organic, Fairtrade, vegetarian and special diet foods. It introduced the concept of buying natural foods loose and in bulk, enabling customers to buy as much or as little as they needed. In both branches you can browse the vast array of dried fruits, nuts, pulses, and cereals, choose from the dozens of different teas, the variety of Asian and ethnic foods and the selection of organic fruit and vegetables. A staggering selection of health and vitamin supplements is available and knowledgeable staff can advise on your purchase.

Real Foods is also the only shop on Broughton Street which is in clear competition with Tescos in Picardy Place. Which is displaying large signage and an illuminated logo without any hassle from Edinburgh Council, but then the rules are always different for supermarkets, aren’t they?

Tescos on Picardy Place

From the Broughton Spurtle, November 2011:

Real Foods are baffled since much of the signage has been in place for 40 years, and the ‘hanging projecting sign’ even longer. It has never been queried before, nor has anyone from the Council at any stage suggested they apply for retrospective permission.

Managers from the shop have sought legal opinion and feel they have a strong case. They are also soliciting the support of customers and neighbours through petitions in the shop itself and online.

On Real Foods’s website, the case is argued that: ‘Without conventional, large shop windows Real Foods has to use other means to attract customers into its shop … In the increasingly bleak economic landscape, small, independent local shops are constantly under threat. Removing all our signs can only increase that threat to Real Foods, its 50 local employees and its many local suppliers, some of which are charities providing meaningful employment to people with special needs’.

Sign the petition to support Real Foods at

If you live in Edinburgh, you can write to your councillors asking for an explanation via writetothem. (If you live in Scotland and would like to support a really, really nice shop, you can write to your MSPs in support of Real Foods appeal to the Scottish Ministers to be heard on or about 27th March.)



Filed under of Edinburgh, Scottish Politics, Supermarkets, Sustainable Politics, Unanswerable Questions

4 responses to “It ain’t easy being green…?

  1. I walk Broughton daily and I love Real Foods, but their signage is a bit much. I find it to be much worse than any of your other examples. You mention that the sign hasn’t changed in 40 years and I don’t believe that to be correct. The previous sign was much more subtle and acceptable. As a resident of the area, I prefer the previous signage.

    • Fair comment.

      I don’t see how Real Foods signage can be said to be more garish than Cafe Piccante or more brightly-lit up than Concrete Wardrobe (which is bright enough to read by on the street!).

      Nothing against any of these shops – I just walked down Broughton Street and took pics of all the frontages I thought were just as “garish” and brightly-advertised as Real Foods.

      I’m not a resident of the area (I was for ten years some years ago, and I still walk down Broughton Street a lot more often than I shop at Real Foods) and I thought the main change was that they’d repainted and added lighting. Certainly the hanging board with their logo has been there for years.

  2. Geri

    I depend a lot on Real Foods for many products which I wouldn’t be able to find in other places. It’s a unique shop and I would support it in any ways. However, I don’t think that this thing with signage and council’s decision victimised Real Foods. If I understand it correctly, the RF didn’t apply for permission before they changed their signage, so the council has every right now to object to the changes they made. The thing that really puzzles me though, is that why the Edinburgh Council ignores other garish shopfronts.

    And yes, I agree with Michael that the previous sign looked less like a huge street banner. It was more subtle but it attracted me when I first came to Edinburgh years ago and didn’t know the city very well.

    • Again, fair point.

      But the objection the council are making is apparently that the new sign is “too garish” to fit in with that area of the New Town – which in a street which includes Cafe Piccante, and Tescos round the corner, and Greggs soon to be just up the road, frankly seems an absurd judgement. Likewise that the sign can’t include the Real Foods webaddress, because that makes it an “advert”.

      . The thing that really puzzles me though, is that why the Edinburgh Council ignores other garish shopfronts.

      Because the other garish shop fronts are not shops in direct competition with Tescos.

      I doubt if this happened because someone from the council just happened upon it: I think it happened because a Tescos employee reported it. They didn’t report the other shops because they didn’t care.

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