A boost to Peterlee’s economy can be expected throughout 2020 as Heather Mills’ VBites business, in the former Walkers Crisps factory, begins to scale up.
A few dozen staff are already working at the Stephenson Road site but that number is ultimately expected to rise to nearer 300 as the vegan business comes fully on line.
Ms Mills took over the 180,000 sq foot factory in November and is now hiring workers and overseeing the fit-out ready for the production of VBites’ new range of vegan sausages and burgers made from plant-based proteins.
More than 350 jobs were lost when PepsiCo closed the Walkers’ snacks factory in 2017 in what was a devastating blow to the local economy.
But some of those workers have already been put on the payroll of VBites – including Wallkers’ former factory manager – and more could follow.
Ms Mills said: “I’ve been delighted to see some of the former workers at Walkers take up new positions with us already.
“We have some good people in place at Peterlee and we’re looking for more.
“There will be office and factory positions for apprentices and also for older people who are experienced. I value their experience.””
Ms Mills said she was grateful for help buying and settling into the factory from Peter Rippingale, team manager inward investment and opportunities at Business Durham, the economic development organisation for County Durham.
She said: “Peter has been a valuable asset to us by connecting us to the right people and making sure the acquisition of the Peterlee factory went smoothly. We’ve been introduced to many local businesses that may want to partner with us and other exciting relationships that will bring more employment opportunities.”
Peter Rippingale said: “It’s been a pleasure to help Ms Mills with her ambitious plans to grow her business further. It’s great that she’s chosen her native North East as a place to do business and bring valuable jobs to the local economy.”
Ms Mills also has VBites Ventures which allows smaller plant-based producers to use VBites’ factories for manufacture and distribution across the world.
“It helps people move onto the next step when otherwise they would have to take a giant leap in order to manufacture and distribute. I hope to open a factory one day which will be full of these incubator businesses. This could also be in the North East.”