Hispanic Heritage: Goya Foods, From 500 Cases Of Sardines To Billion-Dollar Enterprise

To honor Hispanic Heritage Month, Fox News Latino has teamed up with the Ailes Apprentice Program, and our very own Alicia Acuña, to bring you this special series featuring inspirational people representing the Latino community.

Goya Foods, the largest Hispanic-owned food company, could have easily been Unanue Foods, had it not been for 500 cases of sardines.

"They’ve butchered our name through our lives," said Bob Unanue (oo-NA-new-Way), CEO of Goya Foods, whose family has grown and nurtured the company for three generations. "Even Hispanics can’t pronounce it correctly."

Goya, a billion-dollar family run company, has become instantly recognizable with their trademark blue logo and easy to say name. But it wasn't always like that.

The company started as a mom-and-pop enterprise serving immigrants in lower Manhattan, but has since expanded tremendously. Their products are so ubiquitous that it seems there's hardly a supermarket aisle or kitchen cabinet across America without some kind of Goya can.

The recipe to success? Family.

Brothers Bob and Peter Unanue, Executive Vice President, started Goya from scratch – with those cases of sardines. Their grandfather, Prudencio, came to the United States from Spain searching for a better life during the Great Depression and the beginning of the Spanish Civil War in the mid-1930's.

"Our grandfather welcomed the first immigrants to New York, who were from Spain, he put out the welcome mat through food, through cuisine with a nice meal," Bob said.

"We were like the welcome wagon," Peter said. "He [Prudencio] was importing foods from Spain because as an immigrant, he missed those tastes and he felt other people missed those tastes as well."

But times were tough and getting any food supplies from Spain was difficult to come by – until a resourceful Prudencio acquired 500 cases of sardines from Morocco and something on the cans caught his eye.

"And when the sardines came in… they had a name on them, Goya," Peter said. "It’s short, easy to pronounce in any language.”

Prudencio's food sold well. It was a quality product, but the old visionary wanted to make it official.

So, he bought the brand name for a dollar, and as Peter said, "it took off from there."

Prudencio even came up with the slogan, "If it's Goya, it has to be good," (Si es Goya, tiene que ser bueno)

So good, apparently, that the company never tinkered with that motto. It's the same one that company still uses today.

But in the beginning, quality alone didn’t guarantee them a spot on the supermarket shelves. Instead, they made their name in the smaller bodegas.

"Some of the supermarkets would say: No," Bob explained. "We don’t want your product here. We don’t want your type in here."

But the purchasing power of the Latino community proved too strong to ignore.

Besides offering over 2,200 products, a staggering portfolio for any company, Goya invests in the Latino community. The company helped victims of Hurricane Sandy, gave a million pounds of canned food to the United Way on its  75th anniversary and recently unveiled this statue of Roberto Clemente in the Bronx.

"We’ve become part of their culture," Peter said. "You know, we are Hispanics, we sell to Hispanics and to a lot of these immigrants that have come in over the years, we’re more than just a food company."

This connection to the community has helped Goya remain incredibly competitive. But it’s also taken lots of hard work, a lesson they’re passing down to the fourth generation within the family. The company is looking to become a global brand, and the Unanue brothers see no reason why Goya can't be a $10 billion company in 10 years.

"Nothing is handed on a silver platter, my parents always said, "we’re on this earth for a very short time,” Bob said. "And to produce something and to do something with your life, to make a difference, is very important."

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