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Farmer begins tomato processing 7yrs after investment

Two weeks ago, Tomato Jos, a Nigerian company with investment in tomato production and processing, launched its factory in Igabi Local Government Area of Kaduna…

Two weeks ago, Tomato Jos, a Nigerian company with investment in tomato production and processing, launched its factory in Igabi Local Government Area of Kaduna State in a function performed by Governor Nasir el-Rufai.

For Mira Mehta, the founder and CEO of Tomato Jos, the seven-year journey has not been easy but one that has opened her eyes to the underestimated challenges and sharpened her problem-solving skills.

When the Harvard Business School graduate came into the country in 2014 and decided to invest in the country’s tomato industry, she wanted to prove that good tomato products can come out of Nigeria.

Speaking with Daily Trust on how she feels seeing the factory she has been nursing for seven years completed, she said: “Well, it feels great. I am not really somebody who easily celebrate victory – this is something I’m trying to work on. I’m somebody who, if I get 95% on the math test, I’m trying to figure out how to get 100 next time. And so having built the factory is a huge milestone; but my concern has shifted to when can we start generating revenue? When can we actually get the product to the market? I don’t like to rest on my laurels, I’m not comfortable taking credit, usually. So, if I give myself the opportunity to sit back and look at what we have built and it really has been a good effort, then I am incredibly proud. But what I think about is where I still want to go and the road ahead looks longer to me than the road that I came from.”

Inside the 85 tonne per day tomato factory in Igabi, Kaduna State

Since starting the company in 2014, her dream was to make Tomato Jos brand as a factory tomato. The name ‘Tomato Jos’ was chosen for few reasons: one, the tomato from Jos are high quality and known to sell at a premium price and two, the name signifies that it is proudly a Nigerian product.

“For me, even though I’m not a Nigerian, the rest of my team is Nigerian, the company is Nigerian. The product is Nigerian, and I want to promote this idea that Nigerian products can be quality products…Nigeria is an extremely young country and we really want to target the upcoming urbanizing Nigerians who want to see the country move forward and not backward. And we want to symbolize that through a celebratory brand that does make a difference, do something good, and be a part of successful story in this country and that’s part of what we want the brand to keep alive.”

On security, she is concerned about having enough materials to cover their ambitious plans because the farmers have abandoned their own farms, which are located in the bush because they don’t feel safe.

Mehta said the farmers’ inability to return to their lands would definitely inhibit their ability to scale up production and to deal with that, she is creating “model farm structures, to enable farmers to have that secure place where they can be successful.

The capacity of the factory in terms of raw tomato is about 85 tons per day, which produce about one carton of sachets per minute.

“This is the only factory in the whole country that can take raw tomatoes as an input and produce the final retail product, the sachet tomato, as an output,” she explained.

For her, the quality of their products is high purely because it a fresher product. Usually, concentrate coming into the country from abroad, particularly China, spends longer time. “Between when that tomato paste gets inside the sachet can be up to two years from the Chinese factory to the carton in Lagos. For us, if we can create these continuously within the same day, that raw tomato is transformed into paste within a matter of hours and pushed out into the market within four weeks.

“You’re automatically creating a fresher product that has more natural flavor, more natural color, and a better smell and texture. So, we really believe that we can create much, fresher products. You feel good that the product you’re buying is absolutely supporting the local economy and is actually helping change lives.”

Speaking on when to hit the market, she said: “We are really excited because we’re getting to the final market launch. We received our NAFDAC preliminary approval, we have finalized our packaging material, we’ve finalized our recipe and all the different things. So, we’re probably going to be a bit geographically constrained in the initial period, until we need to ramp up our production to cover a large part of the country. But we are super excited to launch the product very soon- a seven-year journey for me so far.”

Looking at the future, the farmer wants to expand operations more broadly across the northern part of the country and to double the capacity of the existing factory as well as to triple the number of farms for sourcing tomato.

“Right now, we have about 100 hectares of farm land and commercial farms that are supplying the factory. We’d like to triple that to about 300 hectares. We still want to grow again, probably five to 10 times larger. And definitely, I would be open to putting up additional factories in other states in the north and in the south as well.”

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