After administrators were appointed to VBites Foods this week, its owner, Heather Mills, expressed her devastation, citing a combination of corporate greed, poor management and the cost of living crisis among factors involved.
It was confirmed that James Clark and Howard Smith from Interpath Advisory were appointed joint administrators to VBites Foods Limited on December 11. The company operates from two manufacturing sites in Peterlee, County Durham, and Corby, Northamptonshire.
In a statement, Interpath said that the company had recently seen increased pressure on cashflow due to the impact of rising raw material costs and energy prices, as well as a softening of consumer demand for alternative protein products in the wake of the cost-of-living crisis. The directors sought to explore their options, including making attempts to secure additional funding. Unfortunately, however, a funding agreement was unable to be reached, leaving the directors with no option but to seek the appointment of administrators.
James Clark, Joint Administrator and Managing Director at Interpath Advisory, commented: “VBites is one of the UK’s leading manufacturers of vegan food products but unfortunately, and in common with many other companies across the food manufacturing sector, had seen trading impacted by rising commodity and energy prices. Our immediate priority is to provide support and assistance to those employees impacted by redundancy, as well as seeking a buyer for the business and its assets. We would encourage any interested parties to make contact with us at the earliest opportunity.”
James Lumb, Managing Director, who leads Interpath’s Newcastle office, added: “This is disappointing news for our local food manufacturing base, which has proven resilient in the face of challenging economic conditions.”
The joint administrators will continue to trade at the site in Peterlee while they seek a buyer for the business and its assets. Consequently, 29 members of staff based at the Peterlee site have been retained by the joint administrators to assist them with trading. The joint administrators have also retained 25 employees at the site in Corby to assist with the fulfilment of outstanding orders. Regrettably, however, 24 employees across the business have been made redundant.
In a lengthy statement posted to her own website, Heather Mills wrote of her devastation: “With great regret, I am sorry to announce that after 30 years of pioneering plant based production and innovation in the meat-free, fish-free and dairy-free sectors, VBites Foods Ltd, a company very dear to my heart, is entering into administration this week. This is extremely distressing for me on a personal level but also for my wonderfully loyal and hard-working staff,” she wrote.
“My team and I have undertaken 30 years of product creation and evolution as well as personally investing tens of millions of pounds into the business and offering every solution I feasibly could to keep it going, but sadly mine and my staff’s efforts have been thwarted by a demand that I stepped away from day to day management, in order to secure essential investment and a combination of corporate greed and poor management, the cost of living crisis, price rises in the global ingredients and utilities markets and the current state of the manufacturing economy in Britain.”
She went on: “Anyone that knows me well, knows the blood, sweat and tears that my team and I have put into the business, for the sole purpose of furthering the plant based movement, of which we have been the pioneers for over 30 years and effecting a major shift in global human health, the preservation of the environment and the protection of animal welfare. VBites have been vehemently proud to be able to offer viable, tasty and affordable plant based food products both direct to consumer and in the wholesale markets for all these years and I cannot thank our loyal customers enough for their unwavering support and engagement with us over the years.
“The plight of VBites is not an isolated case and I think it’s important to take stock and highlight the various factors that are contributing to the struggles of companies like ours in the current market. There are learnings we can assimilate and actions we are to take if we are to ensure that the movement course corrects and grows for the greater good.
“One of the major issues the plant based market needs to tackle is the galvanised and well funded marketing of misinformation currently being undertaken by the meat and dairy industries – and sadly backed by select celebrities who, in my view, should take their responsibilities as influencers much more seriously. Many of the campaigns we are seeing such as the ‘Got milk’ campaign by the dairy industry, joking about plant milk, insulting lactose intolerant people as well as ethical environmental animal lovers, are well-funded gaslighting initiatives that detract from the facts and sow the seeds of doubt in consumers who deserve to know the truth.
“The plant based industry needs to take a lead from the dairy industry in unifying its voice but as a force for good and promotion of the facts – as opposed to a litany of lies and misinformation. We also need to work harder to demonstrate the long term profitability of plant based farming and manufacturing to the meat and dairy industries. If you want to enter the house, you need the keys – and working with the incumbent players in our food sector is the only way to effect meaningful and sustainable change.
“Another major issue we must contend with is the influence of corporate greed in our market. It is unsurprising and inevitable that where profits are to be made, amorphous corporate entities will follow and unfortunately their practices too often undermine the entrepreneurial spirit, flexibility and agility of movement that saw plant based entrepreneurs have so much success. There is too often a tendency to treat their investments as short-term experiments and opportunistic flights of fancy, embalm them in restrictive governance and then either walk away or enforce a takeover when the market hits a bump.
“Lastly it would be remiss not to comment on the challenges that the manufacturing industry is facing in this country. Brexit has been an utter disaster for the supply and maintenance of the sector and the government doubtless has a lot to answer for. So do the opportunistic utility companies and their broker networks, that through an array of nefarious practices now under investigation have hiked up prices so that companies simply cannot afford to operate.”