Why These MBAs Are Keen On Tomatoes


Mira Mehta

Mira Mehta

In 2013, Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest person, splashed headlines by announcing his plans for creating a tomato paste plant in Nigeria. The billionaire teamed up with the country’s central bank to create a $25 million tomato paste factory and is supposed to boost income for 8,000 farmers. According to Kiernan, this has yet to happen. But it also serves as proof of the need and opportunity.

There are a few tomato paste factories in Nigeria but Kiernan says they get tomatoes from outside of the country. This drives the cost of the paste up and is just one step removed from importing product completely from China—which matters to Nigerians who seek local and fresh food.

According to a McKinsey report, Nigerians are incredibly loyal to brands. If they like your brand, 70% of them will most likely continue to buy your product. Half of the country is mainly concerned with freshness of food when grocery shopping. Still, the underlying goal is to shift more of the country’s economy from gas and oil to agriculture and boost income for local farmers.

“As it stands, a farmer may make $1,000 a season,” Kiernan says. “Through the Tomato Jos program a farmer can earn $5,000 a season.”

Shane Kiernan

Shane Kiernan


Despite the award from the HBS New Venture Competition, funding is still needed to expand operations for Tomato Jos to ensure a quality product. Mehta says the model is what is best for the farmers but the final key is translating that into what the consumer wants.

“To get this to work well, we need to get the right tomatoes in the right way,” Mehta says. “We really want to help change lives in rural Nigeria. We are going to test on a small scale first, then raise the funds and produce the first large-scale batch of paste.”

A Kickstarter campaign was released yesterday (Oct. 15) to help generate the funds to produce the paste on at a high amount.

“I fundamentally believe this is where the productivity from agriculture is going to come in the future,” Kiernan says. “This is the continent that will feed the entire world in the next 30 years. We want to do it right and help the farmers increase income. We want to become an agribusiness.”