Goya Foods, The Largest Hispanic-Owned Business In U.S., Adapts To Changing Tastes

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In his spacious glass-walled office, furnished with the Old World charm of fine dark brown leather chairs and sofas, Goya Foods president Bob Unanue holds court in the company’s headquarters – a squat brick building tucked away in an industrial section of Secaucus, New Jersey.

Unanue is clearly proud of the company’s record and its past, which is tightly woven with family history. For 78 years, the Goya brand has held strong under the ownership of the Unanues.

Today, it is the largest Hispanic-owned business in the United States.

Remaining in family hands, with a huge workforce made up of many Latinos, many of whom display the flags of their native lands in their work spaces, the Unanues brim with pride about that success, and how they are a living example of the American Dream.

But they’re not resting on their laurels.

The Latino population keeps growing by leaps and bounds. Tastes within the Latino community are changing; there is a growing demand for the old familiar dishes of abuelita’s cocina to be made more healthy without losing their flavor. And increasingly, Latino dishes and condiments are becoming part of many non-Latinos’ dining repertoire.

And so Goya is in the midst of a quarter-billion dollar expansion, opening four new state-of-the-art manufacturing, production and distribution facilities in Texas, Georgia, California and New Jersey.

Unanue, an elegant dresser who favors dark, conservative suits, speaks proudly about the expansion and the measures that Goya is taking to remain innovative in order to meet increasing demands.

“[The consumer base has] grown from 35 million Latinos to 57 million,” Unanue said. “The United States is the second largest Latino country in the world. That’s over the last 12 years or so… In that time period, we’ve doubled our product offerings.”

Goya now sells more that 2,200 different products.

“Because of this rapid growth of the Latino community and 78 years of advertising and Latin cuisine becoming mainstream and crossing over, our growth has required that we expand our facilities,” Unanue explained.

“If It’s Goya, It Has to Be Good,” reads the company’s slogan. These words, once uttered many years ago by Unanue's grandfather, still motivate the family in 2014.

A remarkable feature of Goya Foods, which started out in 1936 as simply a small store in Manhattan to serve the local Latino community, is how deeply entrenched the Unanue family is within the organization.

While giving a tour the facilities in North Jersey, the soft-spoken, yet self-assured Unanue discussed how various members of his family, including his children, nephews and nieces, work at the company.

His younger brother, Peter, who is executive vice president, said the past decade has been one of historic growth for Goya.

“Over the past 10 years, we’ve gone through the largest reinvestment in our company’s history,” he said. “We’re really investing in our future, investing in our growth. We want to be able to meet the needs of our consumers and feed as many people as possible with nutritious, quality products.”

The company is constantly adapting to an ever-changing marketplace. The addition of many new healthy product lines is another major factor in the growing demand for Goya products.

Some of these products include low sodium and organic beans, brown rice and quinoa, frozen vegetables, fruits, coconut water, diet beverages, olive oil and low sodium condiments.

In making healthier versions of traditional products, Goya seeks to promote wellbeing without sacrificing the authenticity of each product’s flavor.

The company is also involved in a conjoined effort with the White House to create healthier meal options while education the public on the importance of proper nutrition.

In January 2012, Unanue was a guest of First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House, collaborating with the USDA in an initiative known as “My Plate” or “Mi Plato.”

“[Mi Plato] takes the nutritional pyramid and breaks it down into a plate with portion control, protein, grain, fruits and vegetables and dairy,” Unanue said. “We worked the whole program to reach out to the Hispanic community, over 30,000 customers, to distribute pamphlets on healthy eating, recipe books, lesson plans for students [in] 4th to 6th grade, healthy eating tips from the First Lady, coupons and a logo on many of our products.”

“The cornerstone of the program is beans, which are high in protein, fiber, antioxidants… Red beans have more antioxidants than strawberries and blueberries, so that has been kind of our cornerstone for many years,” Unanue said.

As proper nutrition becomes a focal point in classrooms and homes across the nation, Goya’s healthier products are coming off the shelves at a rate that helped inspire changes to increase efficiency.

For instance, once the current Secaucus facility is renovated, it will feature a new line that produces 600 bags of Goya rice mixes a minute. That is six times faster than current production.

The 240,000 square foot Secaucus building will make up the company’s northeast headquarters along with a new Jersey City facility that will open in the fall of 2014 and will consist of 638,000 square feet of warehouse and office space on 40 acres of previously undeveloped land.

Fox News Latino was given a tour of the Jersey City facility, which includes a massive freezer, refrigerator and state of the art high-speed doors to ensure that products are constantly stored at the proper temperature even while being transferred from trucks.

Many of the current offices at the Secaucus building, including that of the president and executive vice president, will be moved to Jersey City.

The New Jersey plants, along with the other newly opened plants across the country, are loaded with the newest technology and building material in an attempt to make the investment a lasting one.

“It’s probably one of the fastest processing facilities in the country,” Unanue said, referring to a plant in Houston that opened on March 27 and is able to produce 1,000 cans of beans a minute.

“We didn’t cut any corners,” Unanue said, referring to the expansion.

When asked how they have avoided rifts, which doom many family-owned businesses, Unanue explained that it came down to humility and teamwork.

The company’s goal is very simple, Unanue said, “to have the Goya name in every single household.”

E.J. Aguado Jr. is a freelance journalist living in New Jersey. Follow him on Twitter at @ejaguado

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