Sussex supermarket rebels HISBE declares itself insolvent after Worthing and Brighton stores ‘closed until further notice’ in January

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Sussex supermarket rebels HISBE has declared itself insolvent.

The announcement was made late last week after signs appeared on the windows of HISBE branches in Portland Road, Worthing, and York Place, Brighton, in January.

These signs said the stores would be ‘closed until further notice’ but HISBE issued an update on Friday, February 2.

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HISBE Food’s Post on LinkedIn said: “It’s with great sadness that we announce the very painful decision to declare #HISBE insolvent and take the company into voluntary liquidation.

HISBE Worthing in January 2024. Photo by Eddie MitchellHISBE Worthing in January 2024. Photo by Eddie Mitchell
HISBE Worthing in January 2024. Photo by Eddie Mitchell

“Since the final tranche of our recovery funding fell through, we have explored all avenues to raise the investment we need to re-open the stores, but HISBE is carrying too much debt from the last four years for funders to put new money in. We were following a strategic turnaround plan and slowly trading our way back, but ultimately could not weather the cumulative impacts of covid, inflation and the cost-of-living crisis.

“We’d like to respond to the love and concern that customers and supporters have expressed for our people – the staff, suppliers and founders.

“Firstly, the staff who worked hard to take care of the stores and maintain a friendly community vibe for customers, despite the extra pressures. We are so grateful for their commitment and for supporting their managers, who did their very best to run the stores with stretched resources and tough targets. Everyone was made redundant and paid out for their shifts and holiday in Dec/Jan. Their notice pay will be looked after via the proper channels as we go through the administration process.

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“Regarding the ~135 local/independent HISBE suppliers, many of whom we have 10-year-old relationships with. We built a beautiful and simple business model with them: HISBE customers put £15 million through our tills, and we passed £10 million back into suppliers’ pockets. However, sadly but inevitably the closure of HISBE leaves many with unpaid invoices that we were expecting to clear in January. It’s creating enormous personal and financial stress for some of them – and we are sad and sorry that it has come to this.

“As for the custodians of this social enterprise, Ruth and Jack. Thank you for the concern and support that’s come through our networks. Those of you who walk in founders’ shoes know the impossible workload of holding all the jobs that you can’t afford to pay experts to do, the operational pressures of the last four years and the resilience and personal sacrifice it takes to keep finding solutions and keep going. Right now, we are hurting and exhausted.

“But we are also thankful for this journey – and grateful to every supplier, customer, staff member, investor and supporter who was part of it. Together we created something beautiful and kept it going for 10 years, against all the odds. We hope that our rebel supermarket sowed a seed of change – and we trust that the important work to transform the food industry will continue through others.”

The news comes after HISBE temporarily closed its Worthing and Brighton stores. A Facebook post on Friday (January 12) read: “Following a painful four-year battle through Covid and the cost-of-living crisis we had a disappointing Christmas trading period and our recovery funding hasn’t come through. So we have paused trading because it’s the responsible thing to do in our circumstances. HISBE owes money to staff, suppliers and lenders and we are exploring all options to raise funds to pay our creditors.

“We hope this is a temporary closure and we can find a way for this social enterprise to go forward and continue its important work. But it will take some time to figure out.”

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