A Maidstone tomato processor that has made headlines for expanding into China and Nigeria has run into major financial trouble.

Thomas Canning, which was founded in 1933, has gone into receivership. Richter, a Toronto-based firm, was appointed by the court as receiver of Thomas Canning's assets, undertakings and properties in June.

Utopia Thomas Canning Nigeria

Thomas Canning signs a deal with Festrut Group in 2014. (Jeff Harrington/CBC News)

After accepting a $3-million grant from the provincial government in 2014, Thomas Canning started to look to China and Nigeria for expansion.

In April 2014, the company signed a $25-million deal with Nigerian company Festrut Group to produce 2.2 million cases of tomato products for the African market. 

One year later, Thomas Canning CEO Bill Thomas was part of a 10-day trade mission in China with provincial Agriculture Minister Jeff Leal.

Fortunes began to turn in 2015

Thomas Canning's misfortunes started in 2015 when the company and owner was charged with mislabeling conventional tomatoes as organic, selling canned tomatoes with a false country of origin and making a false statement to a an inspector with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. 

Another major blow came in March 2017 when nine tomato growers from Essex County and Chatham-Kent filed a $2.85-million lawsuit against Thomas Canning for "breach of contract."

David Epp, one of the growers, was not surprised to hear about the receivership.

"We've been wondering about this for some time, given the management of the place," he told CBC News. "(Our) litigation is still active but all the assets of the company have been sold, so there's nothing left. We don't anticipate receiving a penny for our losses."

Government monitoring situation

The province will be watching any developments with the company, according to Leal. He wants to work with other ministries to help out Canning employees. 

"My primary concern right now is for the workers, tomato growers, and the local community," he said in a statement. "My ministry and the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission are closely monitoring developments with the company."

Utopia Canada announcement

Former Windsor West Liberal MPP Teresa Piruzza announces a $3 million dollar grant for Thomas Canning in February 2014. (Andreanne Baribeau/Radio-Canada)

In terms of the $3 million grant given to the company in 2014, Leal said the ministry is assessing the situation pending the finalization of the sale of the business.

At the funding announcement made by then Windsor West Liberal MPP Teresa Piruzza, Thomas said the money would be used to build a new processing plant, scheduled to be open in 2015, on an adjacent property that would create 40 new full time jobs. The plant never opened.

Mississauga company hopes to expand plant

Golden Miles Foods, a Mississauga-based food processor, is in the midst of finalizing a deal to purchase the Thomas Canning facility.

CEO Santokh Mahal told CBC News his company plans to do a major expansion of the Maidstone plant, upgrading it to process corn, beans and peas in addition to tomatoes. He plans to produce 1,000 tonnes of tomato paste a day for use in sauces to complement the company's pasta line.

"I can say more in one week," Mahal said.