Nigerian agro-processing company Tomato Jos, led by American-born entrepreneur Mira Mehta, last month officially launched its tomato paste factory in Kaduna State, almost seven years after it first started growing tomatoes in the country. The facility is said to be the third-largest of its kind in Nigeria and can produce one carton of tomato paste sachets every minute.
Construction of the factory began in January 2020 but was put on hold owing to Covid-19-related restrictions. Building was recommenced in August 2020 and the Italian processing equipment worth €3.5 million arrived in November. In March this year, Tomato Jos had its first production test run.
The company aims to soon introduce its branded tomato paste sachets in the Nigerian market.
Tomato Jos spent five years focusing exclusively on its farming operations before investing in the factory. “De-risking the upstream side of the [business] was unsexy and didn’t make headlines but it will make the factory successful,” says Mehta in a Twitter post.
According to the CEO, the trick to running a successful tomato-processing venture is to first ensure a consistent supply of tomatoes of sufficient quality and at the right cost. If a tomato paste factory doesn’t have an adequate tomato supply, it won’t be profitable. “If your capacity utilisation drops below 80%, your cost per tonne of production will balloon up, and you won’t be able to make money from your finished product,” Mehta explains.
“Instead of making paste one batch at a time, you need to constantly feed raw materials into your factory, every hour of every day, to spread the huge energy costs over as high a volume of finished product as possible.”