Family cultivates Goya Foods into Hispanic success story

The Goya brand was good for more than $150 million in revenue last year in Florida alone, but in the beginning, it was worth only a buck, as Miriam Silva-Warren reports in this article for 2.tbo.com

That’s what Prudencio Unanue paid a colleague in the food business for the rights to a name that intrigued him – one that Unanue and his family would develop over eight decades into one of the largest Hispanic businesses in the United States.

“My grandfather had been selling sardines which he had bought from another Spanish importer and they happened to be Goya brand,” said Frank Unanue Jr., president of Goya Foods Florida, the third generation of family leaders in the New Jersey-based business.

Unanue will be in Tampa on Wednesday as guest speaker during the “Latinos Unidos 2012” banquet and conference, which raises money for the scholarship fund of the city of Tampa’s Hispanic Advisory Council.

His appearance comes on the heels of Goya’s partnership with the White House in the “My Plate” initiative, tackling obesity with healthy diet plans for kids. First lady Michelle Obama kicked off the program in Tampa.

Unanue, 49, whose main office is in Miami, has a unique perspective on the differences among Hispanics and all consumers across the Florida market. He knows what we like to eat.

Miami is more about black beans and rice, staple foods for the region’s sizable Cuban community.

“But up north,” he said, including Orlando’s large Puerto Rican community, “we sell more kidney beans, rice, fruit nectars and fruit juices. They all move well.”

* * * * *

Unanue took over the Goya Foods Inc. Florida operations in 2004 and has presided over year after year of sales growth. Jars, bottles, cans and bags of Goya products – some 1,500 of them, from anchovies to yuca – are distributed to retailers from centers in Miami and Orlando.

“We had to divide the state in order to be able to meet our distribution demand,” Unanue said to CENTRO, the weekly Spanish-language publication and affiliate of The Tampa Tribune.

“Central Florida has had incredible growth and has become a big part of the business.”

Goya Foods began when Prudencio and Carolina Unanue, two Spanish immigrants living in Puerto Rico, decided to seek a better future in New York in the early 1930s. They opened a “mom and pop” food shop serving Hispanics in Manhattan’s Tribeca section and later acquired the Goya brand.

At first, the business grew on the sale of olives and olive oil imported from Spain.

Later, “Don Prudencio” turned again to Puerto Rico and bought a harvesting operation for pigeon peas – a common ingredient in Caribbean food not widely distributed at the time.

The headquarters were moved to Secaucus, N.J., in 1958, but olive oil bottling and other operations continued in Tribeca until 1973, when the company opened an olive harvesting and export operation in Spain.

Today, with 16 warehouses and distribution centers, Goya employs 3,500 people – 530 of them in Florida.

Through the years, the business was handed down to Don Prudencio’s sons Antonio, Joseph and Frank Sr. Six third- and fourth-generation members of the Unanue family work in the business now.

* * * * *

Frank Unanue Jr. was born in New Jersey and grew up in Puerto Rico while his father ran the company’s operations there.

“Since I was 16, my father would take us to the plant to work, but it was a summer job or when we were on vacation from school,” he said. “Every time I had the opportunity to go, I would, because I really liked it.”

Even though he was the son of “the guy who runs the business,” he said, he did a little bit of everything.

“We had to unload boxes, move pallets. We didn’t have forklifts, so it was quite a job. We worked with the mechanics; we would paint. Whatever had to be done, they would make us do it.”

Unanue began his college education in Illinois and received a degree from Puerto Rico’s Universidad del Sagrado Corazón.

Today he helps lead a company that is changing to meet modern consumer demands, with the introduction recently of frozen foods and soft drinks such as malt soda, coconut water and nectars.

So what items does Unanue keep in his kitchen pantry?

“We have all of them in the house,” he says with a laugh, “Tomato sauce, beans, seasonings, adobo … everything you need to cook a meal.”

And how about breakfast?

“Nothing. I don’t eat breakfast. I have an espresso and keep going.”

What brand?

“Our brand. Regular espresso.”

Latinos Unidos 2012

Where: Tampa Convention Center, Ballroom B. 333 South Franklin St, Tampa

When: Wednesday May 16. Conference 8:30 a.m. 11:45 a.m. Lunch: 12 a 1:30 p.m.

Cost: Lunch $40 pp, conference $ 35 pp

More: (813) 274-8211

For the original report go to http://www2.tbo.com/lifestyles/business/2012/may/13/3/bznewso1-a-tale-of-visionary-flavor-ar-402722/

One thought on “Family cultivates Goya Foods into Hispanic success story

  1. Goya is supposed to be a family oriented business yet all it has done to my family is put them through hell by illegally discharging my father and not complying by the laws. Soon this will all end. That’s a promise

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