Underscoring every Goya TV commercial 30 some odd years ago was the promise that Goya, more than any other brand, would add something exotic to any recipe and even while it set out to capture the hearts of mainstream America, Goya never lost sight of its roots: started by Spanish immigrants trying to sell to a nation in which Hispanic foods and flavors were, for the most part, a far and distant vision.
Today the largest Hispanic-owned food company in the nation, Goya has become a bit of a cultural icon, standing head to head with other big food brands and even carving out a space for itself in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. In 1999, the museum launched the Goya Foods, Inc. Collection, documenting the history of the company from its founding in the 1930s to its present position. The Goya Collection chronicles the company’s growth, factory operations, employee events and philanthropic outreach – as well as the evolution of the founding family’s leadership.
“The Goya Collection exemplifies the evolution of a family-run company, from one small warehouse to a global corporation,” Spencer R. Crew, director of the National Museum of American History, said at the exhibit’s commencement. “This collection, the first from a Hispanic business, is a significant addition to the Smithsonian collections, allowing researchers and the public to learn not only about the growth of a Latino owned business, but to see how Latino culture has enriched American history.”
That Latino culture has indeed grown in waves since Goya first gave us its “Goya, o Boya!” advertising campaign in the late 1970s. But Latinos have been entrenched in the Goya kitchen for years and as an Internet post titled “Stuff Latinos Like” attests, brand loyalty speaks volumes for the celebrated company’s fame: “From rice and beans to cooking oil and garlic powder, Goya has cupboards on lock. If Goya made a soap, Latinos would lather up and proudly walk around smelling like salchichas. The reason why we go so hard in the Goya aisle is simple, ‘cause our mothers used it. And God forbid she sent you to el ‘super’ with a list and you came home with that ‘other’ can of Gandules, mijo please. Goya O Boya!”
A CAN OF SARDINES AND THE REST IS HISTORY
Goya Foods Inc.’s products include a full range of grocery, and frozen goods aimed at the general public as well as people of Latin American or Iberian birth or ancestry. The company was founded in 1936 by Prudencio Unanue, who had left Spain as a youth in 1902 and established a food importing company in New York. He later became a food broker for products imported from Spain. When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, food supplies were cut off, and Unanue found himself out of work. He obtained a shipment of Moroccan sardines from a Spanish company and, with his wife, packaged them in a small Manhattan warehouse, selling to grocery stores. Unanue kept the Goya brand name of the sardines and also gave the Goya name to the olives and olive oil that he imported and sold.
Business picked up dramatically with the heavy influx of Puerto Ricans to New York City in the years immediately after World War II. Unanue established two canneries in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, to produce the foods the newcomers could not buy in supermarkets, such as beef-tripe stew, tropical juices, pasteles (meat-filled pasties), and gandules (pigeon peas).
By 1969 Goya Foods was selling to food stores in the Midwest as well as along the East Coast from Boston to Miami, servicing 7,000 accounts through 67 Spanish-speaking salesmen. Within the next decade Goya Foods had almost 1,000 employees and estimated annual sales of $90 million, and by the end of 1981 Goya’s estimated revenues of $150 million made it the largest Hispanic-run firm in the country. Around this time Goya began its English-language TV campaign intended to raise its market share by titillating the palates of mainstream Americans. In one ad Hispanics touted kidney beans and black-eyed peas to Anglo friends; in another the actress Hermione Gingold recommended Coco Goya, a cream-of-coconut mix for pina coladas. A new push in 1984, emphasizing foods that were both healthy and inexpensive, was aimed partly at the children and grandchildren of Hispanic immigrants. By praising the virtues of Caribbean foods, these ads were intended, said Goya’s president, to “remind them of their heritage, though you can’t push that too far.”
In fact, even discounting the civil wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador that were driving many refugees to the United States, Latin American migration northward was on the rise, swelling Goya’s potential customer base. In 1985 the company opened a distribution center in Tampa and raised its estimated annual revenue to $250 million, with Hispanics accounting for close to 90 percent and the East Coast for 80 percent of mainland U.S. sales.
In 1994 Goya’s product mix was incredibly varied and exotic, including to stones (fried green plantains) from Honduras, nopalitos (sliced cactus) from Mexico, and harina pan, a Venezuelan corn flour used to make arepas, somewhat similar to English muffins. By 1995 sales had topped the $500 million mark and the company had 85 inventory control numbers for its bean products alone. In an effort to reach out to non-Hispanic customers, Goya recast its labels in 1997 to include the English as well as Spanish name of each product on the front, instead of the back, as previously. Joseph F. Unanue, son of the company president, said the change also was an acknowledgment that Hispanics in the United States were becoming more assimilated, citing a recent survey that showed 35 percent considered themselves primarily English speakers. Accordingly, Goya’s English-language advertising was refocused to target these acculturated Hispanics by adding a more Latin feel and including rice and beans when prepared foods were featured. The U.S. Hispanic population was nearing 30 million in 1997, with buying power estimated at $228 billion annually.
TRENDS TOWARD DIVERSITY
In 2008, Goya Foods produces over 1,600 Hispanic and Caribbean grocery items, including canned and dried beans, canned meats, fruit nectars, oils, olives, rice, seasonings and sauces, plantain and yucca chips, and frozen entrees. It sells many different types of rice and some 30 types of beans and peas, all under the Goya and Canilla brands. It also sells beverages such as tropical fruit nectars and juices, tropical sodas, and coffee. The company is still owned by one of the most widely recognized Hispanic “familias” in the U.S., the Unanues, with CEO Bob Unanue, grandson of the founder, running the company with two brothers and four cousins.
“Goya works diligently to grow with its consumers that have formed its success,” notes Joseph Perez, senior vice president. “In certain markets, our market penetration goes hand in hand with the percentage of Hispanics in the overall population but this varies throughout the country. In terms of the Nielsen U.S. Hispanic markets, Goya is a brand leader in a number of key categories. In some cases enjoying a 95 percent share in specific categories such as Sazón, for example. In the final analysis however, we believe that our success is really a product of our commitment to great-tasting products.”
The Goya Foods brand can be found throughout the United States, the Caribbean and Central America. In fact, Goya is very proud of its facilities in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, which have undergone major expansions in the past few years in response to demand. The company has also extended its brand reach to Mexico.
“In regards to Europe, Goya Spain is well established and our brand well received. Most recently, in January 2007, Goya entered into a partnership with Productos Nativo, a Madrid-based major distributor of Latin American products in Spain and throughout Europe, to provide the growing number of Latin Americans from Ecuador, Colombia, Peru and Venezuela and others greater access to food products from their home countries,” Perez says. The new company is now known as Goya Nativo.
In the past few years, Goya has undergone a historic expansion, adding more than one million square feet to its manufacturing and distribution facilities throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Spain. This has increased the company’s capacity and geographic reach in all of these areas in order to fuel and support growth well into the future. Key aspects to managing Goya’s supply chain, Perez says, have been the expertise and commitment of Goya’s team in utilizing and integrating modern technology into all areas of the manufacturing and distribution process.
Today’s market, Perez notes, is no different from that of 30 or 60 years ago, in that people still desire to eat authentic, great tasting food. What changes, he adds, is the context in which the food is prepared and shared with others.
“Goya has observed that Hispanics, like everyone else, live in a more complex world, one with pressing career and family demands, all of which impact on how they experience food,” Perez says. “We’ve attempted to address this lifestyle change through our line of frozen products as well as the ‘heat and serve’ lines that cater to the time-deprived consumer. Moreover, as Goya is always looking for new ways in which to enhance and expand the Latin American food palate, we’ve developed products that address the shifting dietary needs of our consumers such as lowsodium beans and rice, developing an organic products line as well as offering items that are certified kosher, etc.”
An exciting challenge for Goya is the emergence of consumers whose families represent a melding of cultures and, therefore, cuisine. “We’ve seen a new ‘Latin fusion’ as Hispanics intermarry and have children; the result is four different cultures and traditions represented through food – and with over 1,600 products Goya is working diligently to fulfill their needs,” he says.
The trend in the American food market, he adds, is reflective of the diversity of the country. As the Hispanic population has grown and its various cuisines have become better known, Latin American cuisine has come into its own. In most American homes, Latin American food is part of the standard menu. Over the past few years Goya has noted varying demands for foods from specific countries in Central and South America as consumers become more adventurous in the kitchen. Fortunately, Perez says, Goya has always been aware of the broad scope of Latin American cuisine and its potential, so the company doesn’t have to chase the trends. “Our perspective is that Goya is uniquely positioned to help guide consumers as they explore new foods and experiences,” Perez says.
“Goya is very proud of its approach to marketing and distribution because it does reflect our company ethos of being an integral part of the community,” Perez adds. “The customization of our product offerings in a given area is the result of our sales force being in tune with changes in neighborhood demographics because they know the people, the business owners on a first name basis. Our customers know that they have access to a sales force that is responsive to their immediate requests and who have access to an extensive product line.”
Since its inception, the Goya brand has been committed to providing consumers with authentic, high-quality Hispanic food and Goya has not compromised on that pledge, Perez notes. He adds: “Whether we are talking about first generation or tenth, Goya Foods is the brand that was there in the beginning; before ‘mainstream’ markets acknowledged Hispanic consumers, we were in the community, on the table and in their homes. Our customers know that we are dedicated to providing subsequent generations the same tastes and food experiences that have shaped their lives. We feel privileged to do so.”