Our American Dream: Bob Unanue, president and CEO of Goya Foods

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This year Goya Foods, the largest, Hispanic-owned U.S. food company, celebrates 80 years offering Latin cuisine to tables across the country. But it’s Goya’s renowned president and CEO, Bob Unanue, who is the face of Goya, and credited with its uber success and fast hold to an ever evolving market.

Unanue, who became CEO in 2004, started in the family business at 10-years-old. “My father took me along to work with him one day, and it was the smell that launched my interest. The smell of food holds so many memories,” Unanue says.

He says he was paid 50 cents a day, not too bad for a fifth-grader, "I developed a love for the company in the early years, as well as a love of working."

From beans and rice, to quinoa, olive oil, seasoning, condiments, and even sardines, Goya has been a mainstay for the newly immigrated -- especially those homesick for a family meal.

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The Unanue’s immigrated from Spain to Puerto Rico, then later to New York and finally to New Jersey, where the corporate headquarters reside today.

Bob's grandfather famously bought the company in 1936 for $1. He liked the name, so he bought it from a sardines importer.

According to Unanue, the secret to Goya’s success has been its ability to adapt to the needs of people flooding to America in search of a better life, while hanging on to the culture of the food that ties their families together.

“With a growing community of Latinos from 35 million to 70 million in this country, we put out the welcome mat with food that’s familiar, comforting, great tasting, and good for you,” Unanue says.

Goya has not only marketed to the Hispanic community though, it’s been the marketing to non-Hispanics that has contributed revenues to reach $1.3 billion in 2012 – that’s a lot of tasty beans.

Food that’s good for you is a recurring theme for Goya, particularly these days. Unanue recently lost 50 pounds. He says it was all about finding a balance. “Not too much food, sleep or work,” he says.

In 2012 Goya teamed up with First Lady Michelle Obama to promote the USDA’s MyPlate or MiPlato, a new food group symbol designed to remind families about making healthy meal choices and to consider portion sizes, Unanue says the company is committed to the health and well-being of its consumers – particularly Latinos.

“We’re adapting to the health needs of people -- adding organic, low-sodium, and gluten-free products to our line. We’ve gotten aggressive about this. We’ve hired nutritionists, and we’re committed to getting the message out about the great health of our products,” Unanue says.

Starting on the production line and moving to sales and distribution, to GM then to VP, Unanue says he never imagined he’d be running a company of this size. He admits it's daunting.

Unanue was married for 30 years and has six children, five grandchildren and a sixth on the way. “I’m dedicated to God, family and work,” he says. But reluctantly admits that he put a lot of hours in on the job, and finding balance for him hasn't been easy.

He’s also dedicated to making sure his company serves others. Goya gives away millions of pounds of food each year to Catholic charities. He’s on the board of Maestro Cares, a foundation started by pop superstar Marc Anthony and entrepreneur Henry Cardenas. The non-profit works to benefit homeless and neglected children in developing countries in Latin America.

When asked about how he thinks he and the company have become and stayed so successful, he says, “I believe in surrounding myself with talented people who know more than I do. To stay on the cutting edge we pride ourselves in the team we’ve built,” Unanue humbly says.

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