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I'm going to write this review about the Real Foods flag ship store on Broughton Street, as that's the shop I have experience of, there is another shop in the Lothian Road area of Edinburgh, but I haven't been there personally so I'll keep my focus on the flag ship store.
Real Foods bill themselves as Scotland's biggest organic retailer, they also promote fair trade, vegetarian, vegan and 'natural' foods. As well as foods they also sell products; cruelty free make-up that hasn't been tested on animals, shampoos, detergents, cake mixes and the like. They also provide a delivery service to customers living locally in Edinburgh.
As you enter the store you are greeted by an assortment of funny looking fruit and veg on display outside ;). On closer inspection this is the organic fruit and veg - of which I am not a fan. The Food Standards Agency has brought out a report to suggest that organic and non-organic food are pretty much the same nutritionally. As I care about my health I would eat organic foods if they made a blind bit of difference, but they don't. I'm not going to pay £1 for an organic apple - which is close to the prices Real Foods charge.
As you enter the shop you'll be transported back in time, the shop has that olde worldy feel to it with exposed wooden floor boards, barrels full of different types of cereal, muesli, oats and suchlike. Every time I've been into the shop it's been very busy. They have a make-up counter with prices that match the price tags of the higher end make-ups in Boots.
There is a generous fridge and freezer section at the back of the shop; packed full of vegan and other health food goodies. I found there was always a good selection of vegan cheeses - mostly cheeses I couldn't find anywhere else I would be able to find in Real Foods. They weren't that much more expensive than if I'd bought them in any other health food shop. However when it comes to their other foods and items I have to say they ARE expensive.
Now we all know that these health food shops inflate their prices because usually they are small chains and Real Foods is an independent store and while they have two shops in Edinburgh you could hardly say they are competing in the same realms as Tesco or Sainsbury's, so up the prices go in order for these businesses to make a profit and survive. I still begrudge being charged above the odds, however, and even though I was always quite careful with my money I would always come out of Real Foods never having spent under £10.
The staff are hit and miss but certainly kinder and more polite than the gum-chewing cashiers in Tesco who look through you at the tills.
What I don't like about Real Foods:
I don't like that they are promoting organic food. It isn't any better for you. People have been using pesticides for years and the government controls the levels that go into our food. I haven't read any stories of people sprouting three eyes because of pesticides but the way organic advocates go on about it, you'd think that would be an outcome from not eating organic.
Another thing about organic food is that it takes up a lot more growing space - thus, how can that be 'environmentally friendly'? Real Foods promotes themselves as this but by selling organic and I wonder how that's justified.
Along with all this is the price of the organic food. If it's not any better for you health wise and harms the environment...why are we having to take out second mortgages in order to buy organic, exactly?
They also do 'Food Sensitivity Testing' in-store. You can look at this two ways. As a well-meaning act of kindness or charity to those who suffer symptoms after eating certain foods. Or as a scheme designed to grab money from the wallets of desperate people who want answers.
Considering that allergy testing - to see if you're allergic to a certain food - takes MONTHS I do wonder just how these Food Sensitivity Tests work. You go in store, they take some blood and they test it? If it was that simple I'm sure the cost-cutting-penny-pinching NHS would love to employ this technique. As it stands allergy testing is a process of elimination and then exposing a person to a small amount of the allergen to see if any reaction occurs. So I just don't believe for a second that these Food Sensitivity Tests are genuine - or helpful.
What I do like about Real Foods:
I do like the idea of a local bunch of shops supporting one another, which seems to be the community spirit surrounding Real Foods, especially on Broughton Street. I do like Tesco and Asda - and all other supermarkets - but I like the idea of supporting a local trade, too. I'm self-employed so I know how hard it is to run a local business. I also find that there is an almost family vibe given off by these places and having worked in the bigger supermarkets myself it feels faceless and like a production line.
The people who work in Real Foods actually understand when you ask for something vegan. They won't return back with bacon, quark or LactoFree milk ;).
I love the selection of choice. That same selection isn't available in Tesco - in fact they don't sell any dairy free cheeses in my local Tesco.
Chain stores. I do wish they'd expand a bit and have some stores closer to where I live now as I can't imagine traveling for an hour just to buy some vegan cheese or burgers ;). On top of that I don't want to buy something that is going to melt.
Overall I think they're a 'good' shop and I would supplement my own shopping if they were a bit closer to home. This shop is one of the things I miss about Edinburgh (as well as the now closed down Forrest Cafe) and I really hope they manage to keep it open instead of being taken over by a supermarket chain.