Case Study: Heiwa Tofu

Help with Relocation, Market Research, Packaging and Equipment

“One of the most valuable parts of my relationship with Bill is that he forces me to realize how I limit my options when I don’t step out of my comfort zone.  He skillfully and patiently chips away at my perceptions of what is possible. That guidance moves my business forward in ways that surprise me. I’ve internalized many of the lessons and paradigms he taught me to the point where, when he’s not around, I often find myself asking: ‘What would Bill say to me right now?’ That’s how I know I’ve gotten great value out of the relationship.” Jeff Wolovitz, Founder Heiwa Tofu

Heiwa (“hey-wa”) Tofu is small, family-owned business that makes organic tofu by hand in small batches using non-GMO soybeans sourced directly from Maine and New England farms. Founded by Jeffrey Wolovitz in 2008, Heiwa Tofu has become the choice tofu in Maine and beyond, earning a loyal following of customers. Heiwa Tofu is available at over 100 locations throughout New England and is used at many top restaurants.  

Four years after founding the company, Wolovitz realized that institutional sales of bulk tofu had leveled off; he had saturated his available market. Packaging changes had to be made to allow him to enter the highly competitive retail marketplace. He wanted to develop a new retail-ready product line with a post-packaging pasteurization step to increase shelf-life. As a small manufacturing company with only a few employees, challenges included keeping initial investments down, choosing the right packaging and labeling options, minimizing operating costs, and overcoming technical production challenges with portioning.  

Just as he was gearing up, Wolovitz found out that the incubator production space that he had been leasing and investing in for two years was forced to close due to bankruptcy. Over the next few weeks, Jeff negotiated a short term agreement that would allow him to stay in the space, but rent and utility charges doubled. The sudden dramatic increase in operating costs instantly eliminated profitability.  

One of the first things Wolovitz did was to contact Bill Whittier, his Maine MEP consultant.  Within a couple of hours, Bill arrived in Belfast, a cup of coffee in each hand, and spent the morning driving Wolovitz around searching for a new location.  This one-on-one time with MEP was instrumental in seeing Wolovitz through several difficult days and kept him focused on moving things forward in a positive direction. 

In the weeks to come, Maine MEP provided assistance with market research, packaging and equipment. The next big hurdle was to design a consistent process for portioning the large tofu blocks into exact one pound portions. With the help of Bill, Wolovitz and his team were able to succeed despite all the obstacles.

That first year, Heiwa saw an 81% increase in sales revenue, decreased waste and labor hours, improved their process cycle time and increased their capacity.