FORMER model Heather Mills has set to create hundreds of new jobs after buying out the former Walker Snacks factory in Peterlee.

VBites, a pioneering plant-based food manufacturer owned by the campaigner and food writer is set to expand following a seven-figure funding package from HSBC UK.

The announcement comes during World Vegan Month, which takes place every November.

The bank’s financial backing will allow the vegan food specialist to progress plans for its third production facility, in Peterlee, which is expected to bring 300 jobs to the local area.

The operation will join sites in Corby, Northants, and Benton, Newcastle, with the firm looking for a fourth location to expand further.

The Northern Echo:

A bacon alternative created by VBites, which is expanding its operations after buying the former Walkers Snack factory in Peterlee

The funding will also enable VBites to purchase new food manufacturing equipment, including high-performance mixing and blending equipment, slicing machine and a packaging line for new products, including vegan pizzas and dairy-free cheeses.

Ms Mills said: “After decades of promoting plant-based foods to help the animals, health and the environment, finally the world woke up.

“The demand for vegan produce has increased by 900 per cent in the last three years, meaning we needed assistance to help increase our productivity, which is where HSBC UK stepped in.”

The business offers over 540 vegan substitutes including fish-free smoked salmon slices, meat-free maple-cured rashers and dairy-free pepperjack cheezly.