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After Goya Foods’ CEO praises Trump, Philly Latinos boycott and turn to other brands

Some Hispanics and Latinos found it disrespectful that the CEO of a brand that serves their communities would show open support for an administration which has repeated a hateful rhetoric toward them.

Stacks of Goya canned beans at Cousin's Supermarket on 5th and Berks streets in South Kensington.
Stacks of Goya canned beans at Cousin's Supermarket on 5th and Berks streets in South Kensington.Read moreJesenia De Moya Correa / Staff

Blanca Pacheco was so disappointed with Goya CEO Robert Unanue’s praise of President Donald Trump that she made a post on her Facebook feed, illustrated with Goya cans that feature some of the events, statements, and policies that have characterized Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric.

“It’s Trump’s ‘blessed leadership’ that puts children in cages, insults our heritage, labels us as criminals, uses our tax contributions and diminishes our needs during a pandemic,” the post read.

Pacheco, of Northeast Philly, is among those who have decided to give up on Goya, one of the largest Hispanic-owned food companies in the United States, its precooked canned frijoles and ready-to-use seasonings having made cooking convenient for people of Latin American, Caribbean, and other backgrounds.

Unanue made the remarks during an event at the White House Rose Garden on July 9, when the president announced the launch of the White House Hispanic Prosperity Initiative.

“[W]e’re all truly blessed at the same time to have a leader like President Trump who is a builder,” Unanue said during the 30-minute outdoor event. “And so we have an incredible builder, and we pray — we pray for our leadership, our president, and we pray for our country that we will continue to prosper and to grow,” he continued in a statement, which included the announcement of millions of products in donations by the family-owned business to food banks throughout the U.S. during the pandemic.

Unanue’s remarks set off a storm of reactions, particularly from some Hispanics and Latinos who found it disrespectful that the CEO of a brand that serves those communities would show open support for the administration, which has repeated a hateful rhetoric toward those populations since the 2016 presidential campaign. As word spread, it sparked online trends in timelines and news feeds with calls to boycott the company, by using hashtags like #BoycottGoya and #Goyaway.

After Pacheco, 38, heard the CEO’s remarks, she said she gave him the “benefit of the doubt,” as she hoped he would apologize for the speech she considered disrespectful to his employees and his customers. But, after she learned that Unanue stood by his words, she has been staring at a 4-pound bag of Goya pinto beans, trying to decide what to do with it.

“I won’t throw them away, because food is a blessing; but I’m definitely purchasing some other brand,” she said.

Reactions on social media included users sharing lists of alternative brands for coconut milk, corn flour, and beans, and issuing prompts for DIY recipes to make sazón and adobo seco at home. This is the best way for people of color to express their frustration, said Linda González, a multicultural branding expert.

“Latinos are the fastest-growing population group and the most affluent economic investor in the U.S., so the only way that they express dissatisfaction, frustration, and sadness is by using su bolsillo,” meaning their wallets, she said. González is the past chair for the Culture Marketing Council, a trade organization representing the Hispanic marketing, communications, and media industry.

The Selig Center for Economic Growth estimated that U.S. Latinos’ purchasing power would top $1.7 trillion by 2020. If U.S. Latinos were a nation, they would have the world’s eighth-largest GDP at $2.3 trillion, according to a 2017 report by the Latino Donor Collaborative.

» READ MORE: After a call to boycott Goya, Philly Latino home cooks lean into traditional recipes

González said Goya has seen the rise of competitors in the last two decades; smaller independent food companies that also tailor to Latino customers. So companies have to compete harder to earn the Latino dollar.

Pacheco said she will also stop buying the popular Goya adobo that she uses to season moros, broths, and meats. She said it’s a difficult decision for her, as it’s the closest she “faithfully” gets to the flavors of her native Ecuador. She is now opting to make it from scratch for her household.

Other boycott supporters shared posts about importing goods from other Latin American countries or deciding to “return to our roots,” by producing their own recipes and meals with raw, natural ingredients.

Dan Esposito, a Philadelphia cook, shared on Instagram about making the natural spices for a dish of citrus-cumin dusted shrimp and scallops, curried butternut squash, and cremini mushrooms with saffron sticky rice, that he prepared over the weekend. He used to prepare the meal with Goya’s sazón with azafrán.

“Today I had to go out and buy actual Saffron threads; I paid almost $8 for a half a gram — a price on par with some of the best cannabis,” he wrote. “It was #worthit after the Latinx owner of #goya (gushed) over your president despite his policy of separating Latinx families and putting Latinx children in cages,” the post read.

But, some didn’t feel too strongly about the CEO’s words. Clients at the South Kensington Cousin’s Supermarket, heavily visited by Latino, Black, and Middle Eastern customers, didn’t know about the CEO’s remarks.

Isabel Lozano, 45, didn’t know about Unanue’s comments and had not paid attention to calls to boycott. She hasn’t bought Goya products in several years. Lozano said Goya goods are too expensive for her to feed a family of six; the same reason why she doesn’t buy the Salvadoran goods she cherishes in the U.S. She said she buys every other brand but Goya.

“I fill the pantry with any brand, because the product is the same, just a different brand.”

Despite counter-boycott movements on social media, and the highly shared Instagram post in which President Trump posed with Goya goods in the Oval Office, González, the brand expert, said the call to avoid purchasing Goya products could be a prolonged experience, that could go from the virtual movement to a more tangible one toward Election Day in November.

González said Unanue will have to respond to Latinos because the Goya brand is now being directly associated with racist rhetoric, family separation, and the intent to eliminate DACA.

“More powerful than resigning is to have him understand that Latinos deserve a statement, where he acknowledges why his speech is disrespectful to people,” González said.