For more than 80 years, Goya Foods has been one of the leading Hispanic-owned food companies in the country. Its products are rooted in the culinary traditions of Hispanic communities that also introduce new products—from fried plantains found in the frozen food aisle to piña colada mix—to non-Latino consumers.
Its secret may be all in the family.
“The ones who are in (the business) are because they want to be inside and we love what we do,” said Frank Unanue, president of Goya Foods, Florida. “I’m third generation and we already have people in the fourth generation working in the business. It gives it the identity and the soul.”
Goya Foods is a true American success story.
In the early 1930s Unanue’s grandfather, Prudencio Unanue Ortiz, had migrated to Puerto Rico from Spain and eventually arrived in New York. By 1936, he and his wife purchased the Goya name from a sardine-importer‚ reportedly for $1—and were selling authentic Spanish products that included olives, olive oil, and sardines.
As the Hispanic population grew throughout the United States, Goya’s product line and facilities also expanded. Caribbean products such as plantains and pigeon peas were added after World War II with the migration of Puerto Ricans to New York. By the 1960s, black beans, coconut, and guava paste made its way into the product line with the arrival of Cubans and Dominicans.
In 1974, Goya established its headquarters in New Jersey where it remains today.
One challenge for Goya has been to change the perception that Goya is just a Caribbean brand. For instance, there’s a large population of Hispanics on the West Coast that is a different group from the ones “we’ve been selling to all our lives,” Frank Unanue said. “It’s a different culture that is more corn-based, and not rice-based like us on the East Coast. We’ve been growing in the West Coast with a distribution operation in California that started in the ‘90s, but it takes a lot of effort and having the brand identify with the communities.”
So in 2005, Goya launched a 10-year strategic plan and invested $500 million to reach new consumers and expand its brand.
The investment paid off. By 2016, Goya had opened five new manufacturing and distribution centers in Texas, California, Georgia, and New Jersey.
“As communities grow, we keep growing,” Unanue said from his office in Miami, the largest market of Goya products in the state of Florida. “They are very proud of what the company has accomplished and identify with Goya because we are a Hispanic company.”
The company’s identity continues to grow along with the Hispanic community, which is estimated to reach 119 million people by 2060 and make up nearly 30 percent of the nation’s population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
What started with just a handful of products has grown to include over 2,500 that range from condiments to beverages, canned meats and even kosher foods from Spain, the Caribbean, Mexico, Central and South America. Goya also employs over 4,000 people and boasts 26 factories throughout the U.S., Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, and Spain.
Today, consumers know Goya for its best-seller: beans. But even sales of this pantry staple vary according to the market. For instance, Colombians prefer small red beans while Puerto Ricans cook with pigeon peas and Mexicans use refried black beans. “The number one bean in the Northeast may not be number one in Florida. They unify us but separate us by the color of the beans,” Unanue said.
Goya is committed to staying true to the Hispanic palate while also growing its line of products that cross over into the mainstream market with olive oils and spices. The consumer research firm Packaged Facts estimates that the Hispanic food market is a part of American food culture for at least a third of the U.S. population, if not more. The firm estimates that sales in the Hispanic foods market in the U.S. will exceed $21 billion in 2020.
Meanwhile, the Hispanic market is following healthier food trends with low-sodium and organic options. “Our low-sodium beans do really well,” Unanue added.
Since the day Prudencio Unanue started the company, quality at the best price has been one of Goya’s guarantees and is even part of its slogan: “If it’s Goya, it has to be good.”
With annual sales at $1.4 billion, according to a company statement, Goya remains a privately held, multi-generational company.
That is just the way Frank Unanue sees the future.
“My goal is for it to stay within the family for generations to come.”
Header image courtesy of Goya.