Thomas Canning of Maidstone, Ont., has signed a $25-million tomato product deal with a Nigerian company.

Festrut Group will act as the African representative of Thomas' Utopia Brand.

Thomas Canning will produce at least 2.2 million cases of tomato products each year for the African market.

The tomatoes will be grown in Leamington, Ont., the tomato capital of Canada, and canned in nearby Maidstone, before being shipped overseas.

Earlier this year, Ontario announced it would pour $3 million into upgrading the Thomas Canning food processing plant in Maidstone.

The money will be used to build a new state-of-the-art fruit and vegetable processing facility, nearly triple the current capacity and create 40 jobs new full-time jobs.

Most of the upgrades and additional staff will be used to supply the African market.

Bill Thomas, CEO of Thomas Canning, said he expects the deal will need 1,200 hectares, or 3,000 additional acres, of tomatoes. He expects to contract approximately 20 growers in Essex and Chatham-Kent counties.

The first Utopia Brand cans will be on Nigerian shelves May 23.

"I decided to do the deal because of the integrity of the place the product is coming from, the integrity of the country, the integrity of the CEO and the integrity of the product," said Festus Asihkia of Festrut. "This is something we happily embrace."

Approximately 50 tomato farmers in Essex and Chatham-Kent counties have been in limbo since Heinz announced the closure of its Leamington facility.

Some of that work will be picked up by Highbury Canco, which will produce tomato juice for Heinz in that 100-year-old facility.