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Impact investor Bridges Ventures invests in ingredient supplier Vegetarian Express

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The Bridges Sustainable Growth Fund III (“SGF III”), managed by specialist sustainable and impact investor Bridges Ventures (“Bridges”), has announced its investment in Vegetarian Express (“VE”), a specialist supplier of plant-based food ingredients. BCMS acted as lead advisor to the shareholders of VE.

Bridges has invested £5.6m to take a controlling interest in VE. It 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, VE is the UK’s leading supplier of specialist plant-based ingredients, with an unmatched range of over 1,000 products (including tofu, tempeh, quinoa, nuts, spices, pulses etc.) and unrivalled sourcing capabilities. It has a strong service culture, working closely with chefs to develop new menu ideas and its ingredients are already consumed across 2,500 catering locations in the UK used by 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 foodservice 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. These ingredients are also increasingly popular with health-conscious consumers, not least because they have been linked to reduced risk of diabetes, heart disease and cancer. According to a study published by OC&C last year, 41% of UK consumers are now actively reducing their meat consumption.

Bridges was attracted to this high-growth sector as part of its focus on finding investable solutions to societal challenges within the area of ‘sustainable living’. It recently became a signatory to the Jeremy Coller Foundation’s sustainable protein initiative, which has already attracted support from institutions with combined assets under management of $1.3 trillion. This is SGF III's ninth investment, and its second in the food sector.

Perspectives on the deal

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, and consumers a greater choice, of great tasting no meat and lower meat dishes.”

Guvvy Sandhu, Partner at Continuum Corporate Lawyers LLP who advised the shareholders of VE, said: “A commercial approach when navigating the legal framework is always a key component within a transaction and it was a pleasure to have been part of the successful journey with David, Will and BCMS. I wish them all the best for the next stage in the business.”

James Pugh, Senior Deal Leader at BCMS said: “Dynamic businesses in the food and ingredients sector are attracting the interest of acquirers in the UK and overseas. Vegetarian Express, with its leading market positioning and exceptional sourcing capabilities, is a business with clear growth potential.

“Understandably, a number of trade and financial buyers were keen to invest in the company, but it was the ambition, track record, ethics and commercial vision of Bridges that appealed to our clients, David and Will. I wish all parties every success and am confident that this transaction will create the perfect partnership, as they take the business forward together.”

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David Jonas, Vegetarian Express

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Posted Oct 2016
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