Comments from Goya CEO Robert Unanue praising President Trump last week have turned into a backlash and calls for a boycott on social media, including from prominent figures like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. “If Goya wants our business, they must respect and fight for our humanity!,” immigrant advocacy group United We Dream said in a petition calling for the boycott.
Unanue said at the White House last Thursday that “we’re all truly blessed… to have a leader like President Trump who is a builder, and that’s what my grandfather did.” Unanue was at the event because Trump signed an executive order launching a Hispanic Prosperity Initiative and Goya was donating two million pounds of food to U.S. food banks as a part of it.
Unanue doubled down on his comments Friday in an interview with Fox News, saying he would not apologize and called the boycott a “suppression of speech.” He said there was a double standard since Goya previously worked with President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. “So you’re allowed to talk good or to praise one president, but you’re not allowed” to praise another, Unanue said.
While a lot of people believe politics and religion don’t mix, Goya is finding that business and politics sometimes don’t either. Now, following Unanue’s comments praising Trump, the food maker could see an impact, at least in near term, on its sales.
Unanue’s comparison of his grandfather and Trump as builders was referring to the family-owned company’s origins. Goya was started in 1936 by the current CEO’s Spanish grandparents as a storefront business selling authentic Spanish products, like olives and olive oil, to local Hispanic families in Manhattan. It has since grown into one of the largest Hispanic-owned food businesses in the country, boasting 4,000 employees and a wide portfolio of 2,500 products, including beans, seasonings, cooking oils and frozen products.
Since 2004, the company has been run by the founders’ grandson, Robert Unanue, who previously told Fox Business he has been with the company since he was 10. But now Unanue is the latest to be in the hot seat for supporting Trump.
Thousands of people on social media are calling for shoppers to stop buying from the company. The phrase #BoycottGoya quickly started to trend as consumers criticized the CEO for supporting a president who they believe hurt Latin Americans and immigrants with his controversial immigration policies. The opposition to Unanue’s comments could help Goya’s competitors, as people on social media started to promote similar companies like La Preferida and Badia, as well as share their own recipes for products like adobo.
Other food companies have been judged for their interaction with the Trump administration. In 2018, Nathan’s Famous faced an uproar after its Executive Chairman Howard Lorber held a fundraiser for Trump; many people threatened to boycott the hot dog maker. In 2017, companies including Hershey, Mars and Jelly Belly were reportedly targeted in an anti-Trump boycott because the National Confectioners Association hosted its annual conference at the Trump National Doral resort. Although these backlashes cause a stir on social media, they don’t always end up causing any significant movement in sales.
As news of the boycott spread, a counter movement began with conservatives and Trump supporters using the #BuyGoya hastag. Senator Ted Cruz tweeted that “Goya is a staple of Cuban food. My grandparents ate Goya black beans twice a day for nearly 90 years. And now the Left is trying to cancel Hispanic culture and silence free speech. #BuyGoya.” Amid the backlash, Trump also expressed his support for the brand tweeting, “I LOVE @GoyaFoods!”
The company has widely promoted its philanthropy efforts during the pandemic as it has donated hundreds of thousands of pounds of food. The New York Times reported on Friday that the company put out a release about Goya’s donation for the White House initiative, but didn’t mention the backlash. The longtime CEO doesn’t seem too concerned with the retribution since he has since stated he isn’t apologizing. Unanue also said he would not turn down future invites. “I didn’t say that to the Obamas and I didn’t say that to President Trump,” he told Fox.
As international flavors have become more popular in the U.S., consumers have increasingly sought out ethnic food. And as the market for Hispanic foods specifically has continued to grow, Goya has reportedly attracted and rejected a $3 billion offer to buy the company.
During the pandemic, Goya has seen a major boost in sales as consumers turn back to center-of-the-store products. The question now remains whether or not this boycott will actually come to fruition enough to hurt its bottom line and reverse its positive sales boost.
Adriana Waterston, senior vice president of Horowitz Research, told the Associated Press that Goya regularly is one of the most trusted brands in studies she conducts. This could mean consumers feel especially betrayed but the brand’s popularity will make a boycott hard.
“This Goya thing is going to go down as one of the biggest marketing faux pas of the year,” Waterston said.