The Unanue family story is the epitome of the American Dream – a couple of Spanish immigrants starting a business that grows to become largest Hispanic-owned food company in the United States.
The Goya brand was founded in 1936 in Manhattan by Prudencio Unanue Ortiz, an immigrant from northern Spain who left at age 17 in 1903 for Puerto Rico in search of employment. He met his wife Carolina Casal, also a Spanish immigrant, and headed to the U.S. in 1918.
Three generations later and the company remains in family control with an estimated value of $3billion.
Now the company is seeing the worst backlash in its history thanks to pro-Trump comments made Thursday by Goya CEO Robert Unanue, Don Prudencio’s grandson, who previously ousted his uncle and cousin to get to his high-powered position.
The Goya brand was founded in 1936 in Manhattan by Prudencio Unanue Ortiz and his wife Carolina Casal, both immigrants from Spain (pictured)
Three generations later and the company remains in family control with an estimated value of $3billion and run by Prudencio’s grandson Robert Unanue
Robert spoke at a Rose Garden event announcing a ‘Hispanic Prosperity Initiative’ on Thursday.
‘We are all truly blessed, at the same time, to have have a leader like President Trump who is a builder,’ Robert said standing at a podium beside Trump.
Robert became CEO in 2004 after ousting his uncle Joseph Unanue (pictured), president of Goya since 1974. Joseph died in 2013
Almost immediately, #BoycottGoya, #GoyaFoods and #Goyaway began trending on social media platforms like Twitter, with scorn coming seemingly from all directions, including some big political names.
But Robert doubled down Friday saying, ‘I’m not apologizing,’ and calling the backlash ‘suppression of speech’.
Robert Unanue has been serving as CEO of Goya Foods since 2004 when he ousted his uncle Joseph Unanue – then president- and cousin Andy Unanue – then-COO – from the company.
Joseph, a decorated war hero, served as president of Goya Foods from 1974 after taking the reins from his father Prudencio. Don Prudencio died two years later in 1976.
But after 27 years as president, his nephews Robert and Francisco Unanue drove him and his son Andy out, with the support of their shareholders, citing ‘differences of opinions’.
Robert and Francisco claimed it was due to Joseph making decisions without their input.
‘There were differences of opinion as to the direction of the company,’ Robert told ABC in 2008. ‘Now, we’re all on the same page.’
The family’s only political involvement was much less controversial, with Joseph’s son Andy briefly a candidate for the Republican nomination for a U.S. Senate Seat for New Jersey in 2008, but dropped out. He is now managing partner of AUA Private Equity Partners, LLC.
Joseph, a decorated war hero and knight of the Order of Malta, died of pulmonary fibrosis complications in 2013.
Joseph’s son Andy Unanue (pictured) was also ousted as COO in 2004. Andy was briefly a candidate for the Republican nomination for a US Senate Seat for New Jersey in 2008, but dropped out. He is now managing partner of AUA Private Equity Partners, LLC
Don Prudencio Unanue Ortiz started by selling Spanish condiments in a small storefront on Duane Street in Lower Manhattan
Now the largest Hispanic-owned company in the U.S. faces a boycott campaign after CEO Robert praised Donald Trump
Long before the family drama, Don Prudencio Unanue Ortiz started by selling Spanish condiments in a small storefront on Duane Street in Lower Manhattan until the Spanish Civil War cut off his supplies. He began importing sardines from a Moroccan company instead.
The Moroccan company was called ‘Goya’, and Prudencio purchased the rights to the name for $1 because he thought his last name would be too difficult for American customers to pronounce and for its liking to Spanish painter Francisco Goya.
He imported traditional Spanish goods like olives, selling them to the fast-growing Spanish community in New York.
‘Driven by the belief that there was a growing consumer market for high-quality, fresh-tasting, Latin foods, the Unanues catered to local Hispanic families by distributing authentic Spanish products including olives, olive oil, and sardines,’ the Goya site reads.
Prudencio and Carolina had four sons, Charles, Joseph, Anthony and Frank, who were enrolled in Catholic school.
After returning from WWII and graduating Catholic University of America, Joseph joined his brothers Anthony and Frank in running the family business and took over as president of Goya in 1974.
The company relocated from Manhattan to Brooklyn in 1958 and to New Jersey in 1974, where it currently holds its headquarters.
Many of the Unanue’s are still New Jersey-based, mostly living in affluent suburbs of Bergen County with many working in the family business.
Robert, the eldest of six children, grew up in suburban New Jersey with their Spanish father and Irish mother.
After returning from WWII and graduating Catholic University of America, Joseph joined his brothers Anthony and Frank in running the family business and took over as president of Goya in 1974. Joseph is pictured in 2009 with wife Carmen and daughter Maribel
Robert and Francisco aka Frank (pictured) claimed the ouster was due to Joseph making decisions without their input
Robert Unanue went to the White House and said the country was ‘blessed’ to have Donald Trump
A year after Robert’s takeover, Goya launched a 10-year strategic plan and invested $500 million in a global expansion to reach new consumers and strengthen the Goya brand worldwide.
In 2008, the company was ranked number 377 on a rich list of American companies list by Forbes and was valued at $1.4billion in 2014.
From 2014 – 2016, Goya opened five new manufacturing and distribution centers in Texas, California, Georgia and New Jersey to meet consumer demands for Goya products, according to the Goya site.
Goya now has 26 facilities throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Spain, and employs over 4,000 worldwide.
Last year the company met with Goldman Sachs and were estimated that they could sell for $3 billion but have yet to do so. And until Robert’s recent PR disaster, the COVID-19 was doing wonders for business due to a spike in food demand.
‘Our beans are flying off the shelves. Sometimes our trucks arrive at the stores, they don’t make it to the store. The supermarket employees end up selling them on the sidewalk,’ Robert Unanue said of the pandemic.
In March and April of this year, Goya donated over 300,000 pounds of food, or about 270,000 meals, to food banks and other organizations as part of its pandemic relief effort.
The company said it also donated more 20,000 protective masks. Last month, Goya showed up with thousands of pounds of food to families in the Bronx and Harlem who have been affected by COVID-19 and gave food to a public school in Queens.
Goya lists 2,500 products, from seasonings and cooking oils, to beans and other Latin American staples as well as frozen products and snacks. Their offerings are ubiquitous in grocery stores across the U.S., sometimes taking up their own entire aisle.