Targeting a growing segment of consumers who wanted rice and beans along with their meat and potatoes, Joseph Unanue transformed Goya Foods from a small New Jersey-based distributor of Puerto Rican specialties into the largest Hispanic-owned food company in the U.S., as Stephen Miller writes in this obituary for The Wall Street Journal.
Targeting a growing segment of consumers who wanted rice and beans along with their meat and potatoes, Joseph Unanue transformed Goya Foods Inc. from a small New Jersey-based distributor of Puerto Rican specialties into the largest Hispanic-owned food company in the U.S.
Mr. Unanue, who died Wednesday at age 88, took Goya from $8 million in sales in the mid-1970s to $750 million in 2004, the year he stepped down as chairman and CEO.
Mr. Unanue widened the company’s product lines to a broad range of Hispanic foods appealing to immigrants from the Caribbean, South America and Mexico, who all might have varied tastes. Different Hispanic populations, for instance, preferred different beans, whether red, black or refried.
“He liked to say, ‘We’re united by language. We’re separated by the bean,’ ” said Mr. Unanue’s son, Andy Unanue, formerly chief operating officer of family-owned Goya.
Goya today distributes more than 2,000 products and has 15 manufacturing and distribution facilities world-wide.
Born in Brooklyn, Mr. Unanue grew up packing olives and sardines for his family’s imported-grocery business, founded in 1936. His parents were born in Spain but met and married in Puerto Rico before settling in Brooklyn.
He attended Catholic schools and was drafted into the U.S. Army right out of high school, seeing combat in the European Theater and receiving a Bronze Star. He returned to attend college, then joined the family business.
Mr. Unanue worked for a time as a delivery-truck driver serving corner grocery stores—called bodegas—in cities around the Northeast and never changed an unwritten policy to offer them special payment plans.
Growth was slow at first. “It took us 15 years to get into a supermarket,” Mr. Unanue once told the Record of Hackensack, N.J. But Goya was well-placed to take advantage of growing numbers of Hispanic immigrants and changing American tastes. The company began marketing to non-Hispanic consumers, too. It was Mr. Unanue himself who came up with the company’s advertising slogan, “Goya oh boy-a!” according to Andy Unanue.
Mr. Unanue also led Goya when Campbell Soup Co. launched a competing Hispanic-targeted brand, Casera, in the 1980s. Goya ended up buying Casera in 1993.
By the early 2000s, big chains such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. were showing interest in offering shelf space to Goya. It was plans for modernization and expansion that drove a family dispute that ended with Mr. Unanue’s ouster as CEO in 2004, family members said.
But they soon reconciled, and he continued to serve as a company director. Mr. Unanue’s nephew, Bob Unanue, now leads the company, which is based in Secaucus, N.J.
In 1994, Hispanic Business magazine named Mr. Unanue the wealthiest Hispanic person in the U.S.
Mr. Unanue endowed educational and museum charities, and to mark Goya’s 50th anniversary in 1986, he served with his brother Frank as co-Grand Marshall of New York City’s Puerto Rican Day parade.
For the original report go to http://stream.wsj.com/story/latest-headlines/SS-2-63399/SS-2-254086/