New funding options
The funding is going to be essential for the company’s growth as a provider of vegan alternative foods. The seven-figure package agreed between VBites and the bank, which has not been fully disclosed, will allow the opening of a third factory in Newcastle, joining their sites in Corby and Peterlee.
The money will also be spent on new machinery and upgrades. These include mixing and blending equipment, a full packaging line, and a slicing machine, all of which are to be based at the Newcastle site. The funding will also allow Mills’ team to start developing new products, such as dairy-free cheeses and then vegan pizzas topped with the products.
The addition of 300 extra food jobs will be a welcome boon to the local area. Staff will be needed to man the lines, supervise, run quality checks, manage the area, and so on. It will be a full new facility, and as such, it is likely that VBites will be hiring across all levels and roles, including operational management jobs.
Mills said, “After decades of promoting plant-based foods to help the animals, health and the environment, finally the world woke up. The demand for vegan produce has increased by 900% in the last three years, meaning we needed assistance to help increase our productivity, which is where HSBC UK stepped in.”
History of vegan practice
Heather Mills founded the company in 1993 in Corby, calling it the Redwood Wholefood Company. The name was officially changed to VBites in 2010.
Mills then picked up her second site in Peterlee, County Durham, after hearing about Walkers Crisps closing down their factory in May 2017 to save money on efficiency. Around 355 were lost when it closed, and Mills decided to step in, recreate the jobs, and expand her then current range.
Mills is a long-term vegan herself and this ethos is behind the whole VBites range. They are creating dairy, fish, and meat alternatives which mimic the taste and texture of the real thing, while providing a sustainable and environmentally friendly approach. This is perfect for the vegan who wants to stop eating meat for the good of the planet, yet still enjoys the flavour of the foodstuff.
They currently have 540 products on offer, such as fish-free smoked salmon slices, meat-free maple cured rashes, and dairy-free pepperjack cheezly. They export these products to 24 countries around the world, and are currently working on further expansion into the American market.
Nick Hicks, the area director for HSBC UK, said: “VBites’ expansion will not only bring new jobs to the city of Newcastle but will also see global exporting opportunities increase for this fantastic UK based company. Heather is truly passionate about promoting the vegan lifestyle and her company’s impressive growth, partnered with the popularity of its products, speaks volumes. Our recent funding, organised by HSBC UK relationship manager David Sitch, marks the start of what we hope will be a fantastic relationship with VBites.”
Veganism is clearly a hot consumer trend, something that HSBC are no doubt looking to capitalise upon. Research from Mintel has discovered that the launches of vegan products in the UK almost double in 2017, as large numbers of UK adults turn to meat-free lifestyles, including vegetarian diets. The figures may well be even more impressive for 2018, as the trend continues.