Heather Mills

Heather Mills is relocating to the the north east to take charge of the business

Heather Mills has bought the assets of her collapsed plant-based VBites empire from administrators in a rescue deal worth £1m, new documents have revealed.

Mills told The Grocer she had re-employed a large number of staff affected by the administration and was personally taking charge of the business.

VBites called in Interpath on 11 December after struggling to cope with soaring energy prices and raw material costs, alongside a drop in demand for plant-based alternatives in the wake of the cost of living crisis.

Interpath ran an accelerated sales process in the run-up to Christmas to find a buyer for the business. The report into the collapse – seen by The Grocer – revealed that a £1m bid from Vegan Solo Consulting, which is owned by Mills, beat five other offers.

Mills, who was the majority shareholder in VBites, also waived £4.8m of debt owed to her as a secured creditor as part of the deal to ensure a “considerably” better return for all creditors, the report confirmed.

The asset-only deal included the plant and machinery, stock and IP and social media accounts, but not the jobs of 64 staff retained to help with the administration or the 20 let go at the time of Interpath’s appointment.

However, Mills said she had re-employed 40 staff already and hoped to continue rebuilding the staff base, with both the Peterlee and Corby leased factories remaining operational.

“I was devastated when the company was forced unnecessarily, with three days’ notice, into administration,” Mills told The Grocer.

“I strongly believed the next-generation technology VBites had developed and the work it had done still had a huge role to play in assisting the transition of the food market to a healthier and more sustainable place.

“This is why I have chosen to resurrect the company myself, at great personal expense, and take control of the operations, personally moving back to the north east to ensure we are still able to make a positive contribution to the future of our global food economy.

“We have already developed a version 2.0 of plant-based food – soon to launch – that we believe will be a market mover, and will help all of those people attempting to make a flexitarian or plant-based transition to achieve their goals more easily, both with variety and deliciousness.

“Watch this space. VBites is turning over a new leaf.”

Mills founded the plant-based group in 1993, and after buying a former Walkers crisp factory in County Durham in 2019 announced ambitions of turning the north east of England into a vegan ‘Silicon Valley’.

In December 2021, she sold a minority stake in VBites to German multinational Pfeifer & Langen, but the Interpath report said the size and scale of the premises in Peterlee placed an additional cost burden on the group.

Mills also struck a rescue deal for meat alternatives supplier Plant & Bean in June last year despite VBites being lossmaking.

Unaudited VBites accounts revealed sales of £7.7m in the year ended 31 March 2023, an 18% decrease on 2021/22, while EBITDA losses widened from £1m to £3.1m.

The Interpath report added recent discussions with the German shareholder around follow-on investment stalled, and as a result the company filed a notice of intention to appoint administrators on 7 December.

Pfeifer & Langen’s new foods division Nature’s Richness Group was owed £2.5m at the time of administration, with a repayment in full expected, while employees and HMRC are also set to be paid the £43k and £62k owed respectively.

Unsecured creditors are expected to be repaid at least part of the £2.3m owed, with utilities firm Total Energies Gas & Power the biggest creditor at almost £1m.