Walkers owner PepsiCo announced it was to close the site in May last year, citing significant productivity and efficiency savings. Up to 355 jobs were lost at the factory.
Speaking on ITV’s This Morning programme on 29 May, Mills revealed she had originally planned to commission the construction of a factory in Austria. However, she had shifted gears after receiving news of the Peterlee factory’s closure.
“I go back to my home town – and I am about to build a factory in Austria – and I find out my friend has lost her job,” said Mills. “So I bought the Walkers Crisps factory to bring all the jobs back again.”
She also urged UK supermarkets to “buy British” to stem the tide of producers who were choosing to relocate to Europe in light of Brexit.
It is believed the factory will be acquired through Mills’ Vbites business. Her press office declined to comment at this time.
Interest in meat-free diets has been on the rise in the UK, with more than a quarter of Brits (28%) saying they had reduced or limited their meat consumption for the six months to March 2017, according to market intelligence agency Mintel.
Of those who had reduced meat consumption, 39% said that meat reduction campaigns, such as Veganuary, had made them aware of the benefits of eating less meat.
Emma Clifford, senior food analyst at Mintel, said: “Despite the ingrained popularity of meat and poultry, a clear trend has emerged of people cutting back and limiting how much of these products they eat.”
Meanwhile, a growing trend in vegan product launches has also influenced this year’s student innovation competition Ecotrophelia, where four of the five finalists have presented vegan food innovations.