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Goya Foods Reaching Past Its Traditional Borders : Groceries: The New Jersey company is marketing to Latinos in the West and non-Latinos.

From Associated Press

Among the boxes of rice and beans at the Goya Foods Inc. warehouse are stacks of devotional candles. It’s one product the company has a surplus of these days--and that’s a good sign, says Robert Unanue, vice president of operations.

“I noticed when the economy was bad we were selling a lot of devotional candles,” Unanue said during a recent tour of the warehouse at the company’s headquarters here. “I guess people were praying more.”

With the economy improving, so are sales of most of Goya’s 800-plus products, ranging from rice and beans to the lesser-known delicacy of octopus in hot sauce. The company expects 1994 U.S. sales to be about $520 million, about 10% above last year.

From its traditional market catering to people from Spain, Puerto Rico and other Caribbean nations, Goya is reaching out to non-Latino markets and also to Latino areas populated by Central and South Americans, such as the Southwest and Southern California.

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“We have a huge market in the Los Angeles area that is untapped,” said Luisa Donis, a spokesman for Hispanic Business magazine. “You don’t find Goya items here much.”

But Donis said Goya’s market-by-market strategy has worked well in the past, as it went from a tiny operation catering to local bodegas to a worldwide company that controls 80% of the Latino food business in the Northeast and 75% in Florida.

DRI-McGraw-Hill, a consulting firm, projects that the United States’ Latino population will grow 41% this decade compared with a 5% increase for all other ethnic groups. The firm says Latinos will become the nation’s dominant minority by 2015.

Goya’s president, Joseph Unanue, said his company is reaching out to non-Latinos with frozen foods, including pound cake, bread pudding, corn bread and meat pies, and a new line of packaged meals such as paella mix, which includes rice and a can of shellfish.

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Goya is also stepping up advertising to non-Latinos, placing coupons and recipes in newspapers and running ads on television and in magazines such as Weight Watchers.

The company is also touting healthful aspects of many of its products. Beans, for example, are high in fiber, low in fat, and rich in protein and vitamins and contain no cholesterol, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Reaching out to Mexicans and people of other nationalities means some label changes because of the diversity of the Spanish language, Joseph Unanue said.

Beans are called frijoles by Cubans and habichuelas by Puerto Ricans. Orange juice is jugo de china to Latinos in the Northeast and jugo de naranja to those in the Miami area.

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“Hispanics have different names for fruits, different names for vegetables, different names for lots of products,” Joseph Unanue said. “It poses a problem in labeling. People don’t realize that it’s really what they’re used to, except it’s called a different name.”

He said it will definitely take a while for Goya to become as familiar in California and the Southwest as it is on the East Coast.

But the company has always preferred to move like the tortoise rather than the hare in entering new markets.

The company was founded in 1936 by Joseph Unanue’s parents, Don Prudencio Unanue and Dona Carolina Casal, who missed the foods of their native Spain and Puerto Rico.

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Unanue & Sons Inc. operated out of a warehouse in lower Manhattan, selling olives, olive oil and imported canned sardines in the New York-New Jersey area.

The company eventually moved to Brooklyn and, in 1962, became Goya Foods after it obtained the rights to take the name of the Moroccan canned sardines it distributed.

In need of more space, Goya moved to Secaucus in 1974 and now has U.S. production and distribution centers in West Deptford; Chicago; Miami; Tampa, Fla.; Webster, Mass., and Houston. Abroad, Goya has centers in Bayamon, Puerto Rico; Seville, Spain, and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

While Joseph Unanue heads up the U.S. operations, his brother Francisco is in charge of the company’s business abroad. Six other family members work for Goya.

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Goya employs more than 1,800 workers worldwide, who come in handy when it’s time to test new products in the company’s test kitchens. Robert Unanue, Joseph Unanue’s nephew, said employees sometimes offer family recipes. Goya’s bread pudding is based on Joseph Unanue’s wife’s recipe.

Hispanic Business magazine says new products such as the bread pudding have helped Goya’s sales grow 166% between 1982 and 1992. Goya was the largest Latino-owned company for 1992, but was beaten out slightly last year by Burt on Broadway, an auto sales and service company based in Englewood, Colo.

But if the stacks of devotional candles sitting in the Secaucus warehouse are any indication, Goya may retake the title this year.


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