Foodservice investment

Vegetarian Express Acquired By Bridges Ventures

Bridges Ventures has invested in Vegetarian Express – a Watford-based specialist supplier of plant-based food ingredients.

Bridges has invested £5.6m to take a controlling interest and will work in partnership with current shareholders David Jonas (founder of the business in 1987) and Will Matier, both of whom will remain actively involved with the business. In addition, Tim Kelly, former COO of Premier Foods, joins VE as Executive Chairman.

Based in Watford, Veg Express is the UK’s leading supplier of specialist plant-based ingredients to the food service industry, with an unmatched range of over 1,000 products and unrivalled sourcing capabilities. It has a strong service culture, working closely with chefs to develop new menu ideas. Its ingredients are already consumed across 2,500 catering locations in the UK, which collectively serve over 1 million diners.

Bridges’ investment provides additional capital and support to accelerate VE’s growth plans: to distribute a broader range of ingredients to existing food service sites more frequently, while also opening up delivery routes to new customers throughout the UK.

Plant-based food ingredients are an important part of the solution to some of the serious environmental challenges posed by high-meat diets. Livestock now account for more than 14% of all global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions; research by Chatham House has indicated that global GHG targets will be unattainable without a substantial reduction in our meat and dairy consumption. Plant-based proteins, by contrast, are considerably less resource-intensive.

Backing a plant-based future

They are also increasingly popular with health-conscious consumers, not least because they have been linked to reduced risk of diabetes, heart disease and cancer. A YouGov survey in the UK last year found that 30% of respondents were actively reducing (or planning to reduce) their meat consumption.

Bridges was attracted to this high-growth sector as part of its focus on ‘sustainable living’ (one of its four impact themes) – seeking opportunities where environmental challenges are driving commercial demand, such that growth and positive impact are closely aligned.

Partner Oliver Wyncoll and Investment Manager Emma Thorne will join the VE Board. Oliver has over 15 years of private equity experience and leads on Bridges’ deal activity in consumer markets, including its investment in Wholebake and the Hub Pharmacy.

Oliver Wyncoll, Partner of Bridges Ventures, said: “We’re delighted to announce this new investment in VE, and we’re excited by the prospect of working with David, Will, Tim and the team to accelerate the growth of the business in the coming years. We all believe in the benefits of plant-based products – which are growing in popularity as consumers make more informed health and environmental choices – and VE has the best range available. It’s a great example of a business whose impact will increase in lock-step with its growth.”

Tim Kelly, new Executive Chairman of Vegetarian Express, said: “VE has built a really strong platform as the go-to supplier of high-quality plant-based food ingredients. Bridges has a proven track record of helping businesses like VE to scale, in a way that amplifies their impact, so they’re a perfect partner for our next phase of growth. I look forward to working with Bridges and the VE team to build the business and give chefs the ingredients to develop great-tasting no-meat and lower-meat dishes, offering consumers a much broader choice.”

David Jonas, founder of Vegetarian Express added: James was the Deal Leader in the sale of my majority shareholding in Vegetarian Express Ltd concluded in September 2016. He guided us through face to face meetings with multiple interested parties, and led the final negotiations with short-listed bidders with great professionalism. I owe the optimisation of deal value to his great skill and experience in M&A, and prior understanding and experience in working with SME.”

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