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Unanue, Prudencio (6 Apr. 1886-17 Mar. 1976), founder of Goya Foods, Inc., was born Prudencio Unanue Ortiz in Villasana de Mena, in the Basque region of the province of Burgos, in northern Spain. His parents' names and profession are unreported. At the age of seventeen, Unanue (whose name is pronounced oo-NON-oo-ay) immigrated to San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico, in search of better employment opportunities and established a small food distribution business. In 1918 he moved on to New York City, to enroll in the Albany Business School, and in 1921 returned to San Lorenzo to marry Carolina Casal de Valdés, whom he had met there and whose parents had also emigrated from Spain. The couple had four children. The year after their marriage, the Unanues moved to New Jersey, where Don Prudencio, as he was always known in his firm, became a broker for Spanish foods. In 1928 the family moved to Brooklyn, and he opened an office in lower Manhattan as an importer of, and agent for, foods from Spain. The next year they moved to Ridgefield Park, New Jersey. Five years later they moved to Bogota, New Jersey, where they bought a house and lived until 1962, when they bought a new house in Tenafly, New Jersey. In 1935 Unanue opened Unanue, Inc., on Duane Street in lower Manhattan.
Acquiring the Goya Name
The Spanish civil war interrupted Unanue's business by cutting off its supplies, and he began buying Moroccan sardines from a Spanish company named Goya, packaging them in his small warehouse on Duane Street. In 1936 he bought the brand name Goya--for $1, according to company tradition--and attached it to all his products because it was easier to pronounce than Unanue. In that year he also bought Seville Packing Company, in Spain. His sons worked in his plants from their earliest youth, and as they graduated from school, they joined him as partners. In 1946 he proudly renamed the company Unanue and Sons, Inc., and in 1961 officially changed it to Goya Foods, Inc.
Sensitivity to the Market
In the years after World War II, business increased because of the influx of Puerto Ricans to New York City. Unanue established two canneries in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, to produce foods the newcomers couldn't buy in supermarkets, such as tropical juices, mondongo (beef tripe stew), pasteles (meat-filled pastries), and more than twenty-five varieties of beans. As Unanue's son Joseph noted, "We had the products that reminded them of home" (Denker, p. 151). In 1949 it was estimated that 80 percent of Goya's customers were ethnic Puerto Ricans or Cubans, and in that year Unanue acquired a small factory to can pigeon peas, Puerto Rico Food Product Corporation (later Goya de Puerto Rico), in Río Piedras. A separate, family-run company, it was to become the leading enterprise for the production and packaging of food on the island and a major contributor to its economy.
In the 1950s Unanue still sold mainly to bodegas, the small general stores that served as gathering places for the Latin community. He was among the first food suppliers to advertise, and Goya created its own advertising agency to do it. Under the shrewd marketing of Unanue, the audience for Latin American and Caribbean foods was to reach supermarkets throughout the country, keeping pace with, and extending beyond, the immigrant community. By the end of the century, few American supermarkets were without sections devoted to Hispanic foods, and many had sections entirely stocked with Goya products. Goya Foods, Inc., was the largest Hispanic enterprise and one of the largest family-owned businesses in the United States. Under the direction of Unanue's grandnephew Robert, it was also one of a very few American companies to be owned by a third generation of the founder's family. Goya's ever-expanding range of Hispanic and Caribbean food items, numbering at an estimated eighteen hundred, included rice, canned and dried beans, canned meat and fish, olives and olive oil, condiments, pastas, frozen foods, sauces, and beverages. Goya's reported sales in the year of Prudencio Unanue's death were $60 million in the United States and $20 million in Puerto Rico; in 2007 sales amounted to more than $1.26 million worldwide.
One reason for the success of Goya Foods was Don Prudencio's awareness of, and sensitivity to, the variety of his market. As Robert Unanue explained to the Houston Chronicle in 2005, "When our company was founded, the main Hispanic immigrant group was the Spanish, and our grandfather catered to them. In the 1940s, it was the Puerto Ricans. In 1959, we started producing more products for Cubans, in the 1960s and 1970s for Dominicans, and so on. Every time a group comes into the country, we've strived to create products for them" (Kaplan). Familiar with the cultural differences among its Latin American customers, the company always accommodated the linguistic distinctions in the names of the foods sent to different countries; beans are frijoles in Cuba, habichuelas in Puerto Rico, and lotos in Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, and Goya printed its labels accordingly.
Unanue was active in charitable causes throughout his life, and at his behest his company supported many civic, religious, cultural, and athletic activities. Goya's beneficiaries have include the National Council of la Raza, the National Puerto Rican Day Parade, Ballet Hispanico, el Museo del Barrio, and New York's Museum of Modern Art, where the company sponsored an exhibition of the work of Francisco Goya in 1995. Unanue was widely recognized for his good works, both corporate and personal. In 1998 Bayamón, Puerto Rico, honored him for "his vision, his concern for the welfare of Puerto Rican workers, and his commitment to improve the quality of life on the Island" (Municipal Act No. 173) by renaming its Highway Number 5 the "Prudencio Unanue Highway."
Unanue turned the management of Goya Foods, Inc., over to his oldest son, Joseph, in 1974 and devoted his time to community and philanthropic work. He kept a home in Secaucus, New Jersey, the headquarters of Goya Foods, and another in Río Piedras, Puerto Rico, where, beginning in the 1950s, he and his wife regularly spent the winter months and where he died shortly before his ninetieth birthday.
Documents and records relating to Goya Foods, including some information on the life of its founder, are in the Goya Foods, Inc., Collection 1960-2000 (#694), in the Archive Center of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. An account of the origins and growth of the business, with information on Prudencio Unanue, is in Joel Denker, The World on a Plate: A Tour Through the History of America's Ethnic Cuisine (2003), and in newspaper and magazine reports on Goya Foods. See also David Vidal, "Goya: Spanish Flavor in U.S.," New York Times, 23 Apr. 1979; Frank McCoy, "Goya: A Lot More Than Black Beans and Sofrito," BusinessWeek, 7 Dec. 1987; David Kaplan, "Goya: Lots of Food for Diverse Culture," Houston Chronicle, 19 July 2005; and Barbara de Lollis's profile of Unanue's grandnephew Robert, "CEO Profile: At Goya, It's All in la Familia," USA Today, 24 Mar. 2008. The law renaming of Bayamón's Highway Number 5 in honor of Unanue can be found in Municipal Act No. 173, Bayamón, P.R., 24 July 1998. An obituary is in the New York Times, 19 Mar. 1976.
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Dennis Wepman. "Unanue, Prudencio";
American National Biography Online Feb. 2000.