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Goya Foods expands in California as market grows for Latino food

U.S. market for Latino food is projected to jump to $10.7 billion in 2017, up nearly 31% from $8.2 billion in

Goya Foods is doubling down on beans and rice in California.

The country's biggest Latino-owned food company unveiled its new distribution center Thursday in the City of Industry, part of a $300-million expansion in several states, including Texas and Georgia.

Goya's investment comes as demand climbs for its spices, olives and chiles among both immigrant populations and Americans in general who are increasingly taking a shine to Latin American cuisine.

"Our growth over the years has been in parallel with the growth of the Latino community in the U.S.," said Bob Unanue, president of the Secaucus, N.J., company. "But it's not just the Latino market, with the general market as well."

The U.S. market for Latino food is projected to jump to $10.7 billion in 2017, up nearly 31% from $8.2 billion in 2012, according to Packaged Facts.

Latino shoppers — who typically spend a greater chunk of their income on groceries compared with other ethnic groups — are on track to control $1.5 trillion in buying power in 2015, according to Nielsen.

Goya is in a unique position to take advantage of its customers' growing affluence and evolving tastes, analysts said.

"They have no national competitors," said Jim Prevor, a food analyst and founder of the PerishablePundit.com. The investments "are a way of dealing with regional competitors and finding ways to gain market share."

Prevor said Goya is benefiting from the American penchant for taking native foods and adding a uniquely red-white-and-blue spin. That tends to blur preferences that can sharply divide the palates of Latino immigrants from different countries. Or as Goya executives quip: "We're united by language, we're separated by the bean."

"Chinese food in America bears little resemblance to what people in China actually eat," Prevor said. "Goya is broadening their reach now that Latino cuisine is evolving as well to be a distinctly American offering that sort of transcends the old ethnic boundaries of strictly Mexican or Cuban or Puerto Rican."

The Thursday ceremony feting the new facility also indicated the swirl of cultures that has marked Goya's rise.

A mariachi band welcomed arriving guests, who mingled while two local pageant winners posed next to Goya products. A priest sprinkled holy water to bless the new building before executives took to the stage to extol the virtues of Goya and its triumphs. Food on offer, including paella, empanadas and plantains, reflected a variety of ethnic cuisines.

Goya got its start in 1936 with Prudencio Unanue Ortiz and his wife, Carolina, Spanish immigrants who first landed in Puerto Rico before moving to the U.S. Their original shop in Manhattan sold imported foods such as sardines and olives to Latino families in the area.

Four generations later, 15 members of the Unanue family still work for the company they control. Over the span of 78 years, Goya has grown to 4,000 employees worldwide and annual sales north of $1 billion, according to Bob Unanue.

His son, Robert Unanue, general manager of Goya's California arm, said the Golden State is a prime area of growth for the company. "It's an enormous market for us," Robert Unanue said.

California sales have posted double-digit increases every year over the last decade, he said. The 250,000-square-foot distribution center, nearly quadruple the size of the old facility nearby, will multiply the company's capacity to refrigerate and package foods.

The City of Industry facility is also close to a rail line, making it cheaper and easier to ship products to the warehouse from places like Goya's new cannery in Texas, Peter Unanue said.

The executive vice president, who is Bob Unanue's brother and Robert Unanue's uncle, said his family's company has worked hard to make food that appealed to a broad swath of customers.

Goya now offers 2,400 different products, more than double the number from a decade earlier. The company has also rolled out items such as quinoa and rice blends, and run commercials on English-language television stations with a diverse array of actors.

"Our core continues to be the Latin market, but … we have a product for everyone," Peter Unanue said.

In recent years, Goya has focused on adding to its lineup of healthy options, including low-sodium beans. The company partnered with First Lady Michelle Obama as part of her Let's Move campaign to promote good eating and wellness in the U.S.

Going forward, Robert Unanue said Goya would continue to be run by the large and far-flung clan. Two of his five siblings also work for the company — one in Texas and the other in Spain. They all pitched in at the family business growing up.

"My mom gets jealous because I see Dad all the time," he joked. "I have to tell her 'It's not all fun and games.'"

shan.li@latimes.com

Twitter: @ByShanLi

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