In a previous post, we talked about tomato farming and what it means for agriculture enthusiasts. So today, let’s talk about tomato processing. We will deal with why this business is worth the trouble for entrepreneurs and how to get it started. We will also look at the challenges and how to increase your chances of success.
For this post, we will focus on processing tomato into paste. You can equally process tomato into jam and ketchup but we’ll stick with paste for today because it has the widest market in Nigeria.
Nigeria imports over 66 million tonnes of processed tomato annually amounting to some N15billion. In other words, Africa’s largest producer of tomato is also the biggest importer of its processed form. You see our processing capabilities need a lot of work? That’s why you are reading this post.
Because tomato has a short shelf-life, farmers lose millions in revenue due to damages and food waste. They are often forced to sell off their goods at less than ideal prices to forestall damages and loss of revenue. This would not happen if there were appropriate processing and storage means.
When you put this together with the federal government prioritizing tomato processing as one of the ways to encourage farmers and boost agriculture, you see why processing of tomato is such a lucrative venture for entrepreneurs.
I’m not going to lie to you, tomato processing on a commercial-scale is a capital-intensive project. It costs more than the average Nigerian can take on alone. But with the current economic and agriculture trends, it is still one of the most lucrative businesses one could embark on. Not to worry, I will give you suggestions on some ways you can raise money to start this business.
Benefits of tomato processing
Processing tomato into paste has many benefits. One of the most important advantages of tomato processing is that it reduces food waste. You can store processed tomato for a long time without fear of damage.
Setting up a tomato processing factory translates to increased profit as a tomato farmer. Because you add more value to the raw tomato, you get more profit from sales for a longer time.
Tomato processing lowers the cost of tomatoes during off-season. Because we lack proper storage facilities and good road networks, tomatoes are often very abundant during some times of the year and very scarce at other times. Processing ensures availability of tomatoes round the year, reducing scarcity.
Processed tomato is easier to store and transport
Drawbacks of tomato processing
Yes, there are certain drawbacks to this business. Those drawbacks are also some of the most pressing challenges to this business.
No, you don’t have to be a Dangote to start tomato processing but the truth is, it is a cost-intensive venture. Many people are put off by the sheer size of what it costs to stat a commercial-scale tomato processing factory.
Loss of nutrients and reduction in taste
Some of the processing and preservation methods like pasteurization and addition of chemical preservatives, coupled with all the heating, can cause a reduction of nutrients in processed tomato. It doesn’t help that many of the important tomato paste brands have such low quality that people get skeptical towards commercially processed tomato.
As a result, many people only use processed tomato paste when there is not enough raw tomato to cook with. This drives up the cost of raw tomatoes, defeating one of the essential goals of tomato processing in the first place.
The challenge is that you face an uphill task to convince people about the quality of your product. But once they are convinced, you are set to fly.
How to process tomato to paste
The following is a step-by-step guide to processing tomato to paste. This process is not definitive but should give you a general idea of what is required.
Selection and sorting
The first step is to select and sort the right type of raw tomatoes for processing. Selection and sorting ensures that you use only fresh and healthy tomatoes for processing. Make sure you select only ripe, mould-free and high quality tomatoes of the right species. This will increase the overall quality output of your tomato paste.
Weighing is important to decide the nutritional value of the processed tomato. This information will be very crucial during fortification and addition of preservatives. It will also make sure that all the batches of processed tomatoes have uniform nutritional values.
Wash in clean water to clean out dirt before processing.
Blanching is also known as pre-processing treatment. It helps remove the skin, seeds and offensive odor from the tomatoes before processing. Put the tomatoes in boiling water for 5-7 minutes until the skin easily peels off. Peeling off the skin is important because the skin toughens during heating.
This is also known as mashing. It is the process of converting boiled tomatoes to pulp. For commercial production, you can use a manual or motorized fruit pulping machine to ease workload and stress, and to also make the process faster.
Boiling, sieving and heating
Boil the blended tomatoes and sieve with a clean, white cotton sack to separate the water and the pulp. To prevent bacteria growth in your finished product, you will need to increase the acid level of the tomato paste. To do this, add lemon juice while boiling to reduce the PH level to somewhere below 4.5.
After sieving, you can now slowly heat the tomato paste, stirring it to avoid burning until you get the tomato concentrate.
Preservation and packaging
Just like any other processing business, packaging your processed product is key to a successful business. Be creative in you packaging style. The most common materials used in packaging tomato paste include: bottles, tins, and sachet.
The method of packaging you use would determine what preservation techniques are necessary to increase the shelf-life of the tomato paste. For sachet and small can packaging (which can be opened and used at once), chemical preservatives may not be necessary.
For bottle packaging, you can use pasteurization technique to preserve your product.
Consult a nutritionist to determine the right method of preservation for whatever packaging you choose.
Branding and marketing
At this point, what remains is to brand and market your product. For a small-scale business, you can spread the word about your product and supply to local restaurants and households.
The market for processed tomato is equally large, beyond just Nigeria. Processed tomato is in hot demand in the international market and you can make quite a fortune from exportation.
Use every means necessary to publicize your product: magazines, newspaper, television and radio adverts, posters, handbills-whatever you budget can afford. A well-publicized business has a higher chance of succeeding.
Important considerations for tomato processing business
Getting the right location
Tomatoes have a very short shelf life. They start to decay after a few days. The closer your processing plant is situated to the farm or source of raw materials, the more you are able to get good, uncontaminated tomatoes for processing. This is very important while considering a location for your tomato processing plant.
If you plan to have a large-scale tomato processing business, you may need to consider setting up your own tomato farm. This will make sure you have steady supply of raw materials and enables you to pick only fresh tomatoes for processing.
You will also need access to clean water supply, electricity and good roads for transportation of raw materials.
Tomato processing business is one of the businesses that require registration and licensing from the relevant food control and regulatory agencies (NAFDAC for Nigerians). To increase your business credibility it is important to get your product certified and registered with NAFDAC.
This is not one of those business you can start and get people buying without NAFDAC certification. Without a NAFDAC registration number, it would be difficult to convince people to buy your product.
In addition to NAFDAC, you also need to register your business name with Corporate Affairs. This process is relatively easier than NAFDAC registration. Lastly, you should looking into registering your trademark and getting approval from SON.
Remember when I said tomato processing is capital-intensive? This is the aspect that makes it so. Some of the basic machinery you would need for tomato paste processing include: Fruit washer, fine pulper, storage tank, boiler, fruit mill, seal machine, steam pressure reducing station, etc.
For tomato processing, a business plan is a very important tool especially if you don’t have the financial capacity to start the business by yourself. You will need a business plan to apply for and secure loans and grants to start off your business. Also, a business plan is important to determine the long-term viability of the business.
I designed this free mini-course to show you how to write a good business plan.
Challenges of tomato processing
If you have to transport raw materials over a long distance to your processing plant, you will constantly have to deal with damaged goods. This is because tomato is highly perishable. One way to deal with this is to situate your factory close to a tomato farm or, if you can afford it, set up your own farm.
Some tomato processing companies have already made a name for themselves in the market. As a new entrepreneur venturing into this business you’ll face the challenge of competing with some of the already established brand. Yes, you can give your competition a run for their money with determination, enticing packaging, solid marketing strategy and high quality product.
Sourcing for funds to start the business might prove challenging, especially if you would love to go into large-scale tomato processing with all the necessary equipment.
There are some ways to source for fund, some of which are explained in this article. You can also look for available government loans and grants, and see if you can attract some rich investor’s attention.
Tomato processing is not only good for the entrepreneur, it is good for the economy of the country, feeding of the nation and agriculture in general. I encourage you to get in while the getting is still good.
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