Bridges invests in Vegetarian Express as consumers develop taste for more sustainable living

  • Vegetarian Express, founded in 1987 by David Jonas, is the leading specialist plant-based food ingredient supplier to the UK food service sector
  • Moving to a more plant-based diet can benefit both the environment and consumer health
  • Bridges will work in partnership with the current shareholders and a new team led by Tim Kelly, incoming Executive Chairman, to fund and support further growth
  • This is the ninth deal from Bridges Sustainable Growth Fund III

The Bridges Sustainable Growth Fund III (“SGF III”), managed by specialist sustainable and impact investor Bridges Ventures (“Bridges”), announces its investment in Vegetarian Express (“VE”), a specialist supplier of plant-based food ingredients.

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 to the food service industry, 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. 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.

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. It recently became a signatory to the Jeremy Coller Foundation’s sustainable protein initiative, which has 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, following its 2014 investment in Wholebake (a manufacturer of healthy snack bars including 9BAR). Partner Oliver Wyncoll and Investment Manager Emma Thorne are leading the investment on behalf of the firm, and 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 (a community pharmacy chain).

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.”


Advisers to Bridges Ventures:

Legal: Addleshaws (Marc Field); Financial: RSM (Jonathan Wade)

Commercial: Parthenon EY (Paul Ahern)

Advisers to VE:

Corporate Finance: BCMS (James Pugh); Legal: Continuum (Guvvy Sandhu)