WATCH: Heather Mills’ plant-based firm VBites eyes micro-factories to boost food security following Middle East expansion
It recently entered Dubai and Abu Dhabi with nine SKUs comprising of vegan fish, duck, burgers and nugget products made from protein sources such as wheat, soya, and konjac.
VBites develops more than 140 products which retails in 24 countries worldwide, including Europe, US and Australia.
The next step is entering Oman and Saudi Arabia within the next two months, according to Mills.
Currently, all its foods are manufactured in the UK at its factory in Corby.
Mills told FoodNavigator-Asia she plans to manufacture in Middle East, creating micro factories and licensing IPs.
“Ultimately, I would like to manufacture somewhere in the Middle East, so that we don't need to ship our products. Also, it can help create greater food security, since the Middle East’s weakest area is its lack of self-sufficiency, imported 90% of its foods.”
“Since COVID-19, self-sufficiency is absolutely vital and because of the Brexit nightmare, it’s also really important we help countries create that self-sufficiency, and to use their local procurement and their local ingredients.”
Having micro factories would also help create products tailored to local taste buds, she added.
Mills is currently in talks with India, Africa, Morocco and Egypt on establishing micro factories. Watch the video to find out more.
From exclusive to e-commerce
VBites started in 1993, initially focusing on private label. At the start, it was an exclusive supplier for Holland and Barrett, making 84 plant-based products.
Since then, the firm has diversified to one third retail, one third food service and one third online.
“We were one of the few vegan companies that had an online store so when COVID-19 happened, we were very lucky because food service died, so a third of our business was closed temporarily. But our retail sales grew by about 2,000%, which helped offset the lack of food service sales.”
With this, Mills is exploring e-commerce channels in the Middle East, following its supermarket launch.
Foods and supplements
Mills said the biggest opportunity among vegan products was cheese.
“The reason most people who are vegetarian do not become vegan is because they are addicted to cheese. The next biggest market is fish.” VBites develops vegan cheese for Domino’s in the UK.
She added plant-based products had to be price competitive with fast food chains and real meat and dairy, in order to convert people to plant-based alternatives.
Besides plant-based foods, VBites is exploring the potential of producing algae oil and powders to incorporate into dietary supplements or functional foods.
The firm has already developed a vegan supplement called V omega-3.
“Most people think omega-3 comes from fish, but it actually comes from the algae that fish eat. We developed a supplement containing 420mg DHA and 20mg EPA which can help with brain function, mental health and microbiome,” Mills said.
“My goal is to get it as a functional ingredient to go into all products such as vegan baby formulas, vegan drinks, breads, meat, fish and dairy free products. It will be the ingredient of the future.”