Food giant Heinz says it has reached a preliminary deal with Highbury Canco Corp. to allow Highbury to acquire its tomato processing plant Leamington, Ont., saving it from complete closure.

Heinz, a major employer in the southwestern Ontario town, announced plans last November to close the facility by late June, putting close to 800 full-time employees out of work.

But Heinz announced today it has signed a letter of intent with Highbury — a Canadian company — to acquire the Leamington facility and to also act as a co-packer for Heinz.

Highbury said it intends to employ about 250 people plus additional seasonal workers.

Michael Mullen, a senior vice-president with Heinz, says the deal is subject to the successful completion of the full transaction but calls it “great news for Heinz and for Leamington.”

He says Heinz received many expressions of interest in the facility and said the company is happy it was able to find a “strong new partner” in Canco.

Canco spokesman Pradeep Sood says the company will continue to manufacture certain Heinz products and provide some distribution and logistics services to Heinz in Canada.

“In the next few weeks, we look forward to working closely with all our strategic partners including local farmers, the workforce, the local community and all levels of government to finalize the agreement with Heinz,” said Sood.

He added the Leamington plant has an excellent workforce and called Ontario farmers among the best in the world.

“We believe that our investment will be the cornerstone to providing Ontario’s agricultural products around the world, not just in Canada,” he said.