Heather Mills' VBites vegan business 'mothballs' Peterlee factory as coronavirus hits restaurant and international trade
A vegan food production line launched by Heather Mills after she took on the former Walkers crisp factory has been put on hold as her firm deals with the fallout of Covid-19.
The site in Stephenson Road, Peterlee, was taken on by the Washington-raised businesswoman to make burgers and a smoked salmon-style product for her vegan VBites range.
However, after the pandemic saw restaurants and hotels shut for months, the factory, which mainly supplies the eating out trade, has been “mothballed” as the impact of the coronavirus crisis continues.
Around 75 people are employed at four different factories; one in Northamptonshire and three in the North East in Peterlee, Benton and Seaton Delaval.
Ms Mills said of the Peterlee site: “This factory is a fundamental cog for VBites in terms of foodservice production and international large orders.
"Both of these sectors have suffered during Covid-19.
"Despite these challenges I have still done my utmost to keep the facility open during the lockdown period - including the manufacturing of a pioneering vegan smoked salmon.
"I currently personally fund the facility to the tune of £140,000 per month in overheads.
"As you'll appreciate given the challenging circumstances, we've taken the tough decision to furlough part of the Peterlee staff but were able to relocate those that were willing to work in the Benton factory to support the expansion in cheese production.
"Now the company has made the financially prudent decision – so we do not force the other two factories into problems – to mothball production in the site until the foodservice and international orders resume, which we anticipate will be the case within the next few months.”
The former model said that the company still believes the Peterlee factory will play a role in the businesses expansion when normal production resumes.
She said: “"We are looking at all potential options in this guessing game, like most companies.”
"We have also sought alternative solutions for employment of those staff wherever possible.
Ms Mills added she has invested £26 million in VBites, which has won awards and supplies dairy-free cheese to companies including Domino’s, and has not been given support from the Government and UK banks.