Prudencio Unanue (JB)

Jersey City, New Jersey



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the story

Prudencio Unanue (JB)

Prudencio Unanue was born April 6, 1886 in Villasana de Mena, which is in the northern province of Spain. However, he did not stay in Spain for very long. He immigrated to Puerto Rico for the more abundant opportunities at 17, and founded a small food distribution business. Not staying very long there, he traveled to the United States to attend business school in Albany. Maybe not surprisingly, he left again, this time returning back to Puerto Rico in 1921 to marry Carolina Casal de Valdés, a women whose parents were also Spanish. They had four children, and soon moved to New Jersey. Sticking with the tradition of moving, the family picked up and once again moved to Brooklyn, but it was during this time more permanent and larger roots were laid. There, Don Prudencio Unanue and his wife opened a small storefront on Duane Street in Lower Manhattan in 1935, and this would be the beginning of the Goya Food empire.

With a large influx of Spanish speaking people coming into NYC, Unanue saw a desperate need and filled it, but it was more than just him filling a void. Along with the large influx, “When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, food supplies were cut off, and Unanue had no work. He obtained a shipment of Moroccan sardines and, with his wife, packaged and sold them to local stores from a small Manhattan warehouse. He purchased the rights to the brand name “Goya” from the sardine supplier for $1.00.”

So, Unanue, after he purchased the rights of the name Goya, which he did because he believed it was easier to pronounce, started supplying commodities like Spanish Olive Oil and olives. It was a family business with all the sons helping, and eventually joining him as partners. Influxes of Spanish speaking populations kept coming increasing in NYC. So, the Goya brand not only adapted to the market, but continue to be an astonishing success.

As of present, Goya Foods is the only Hispanic company to have an exhibition at the Smithsonian Museum of American History and also earned 1.3 billion in 2012. It can be argued and debated over what leads to success, with some believing fate, luck or chance play a role. However, that the monumental success very much has to do with being in the business of adapting and reshaping for their loyal customers, but also reaching out to new ones.

The Unanue’s are in the business of adapting to the Hispanic market, but they also marketed their products to the Anglo-Saxon market beginning in the 1970’s. It inundated televisions with English commercials about their products such as, “Hispanics touted kidney beans and black-eyed peas to Anglo friends” and “ actress Hermione Gingold recommend[ing] Coco Goya, a cream-of-coconut mix for pina coladas.” Later on, they “recast its labels in 1997 to include the English as well as Spanish name of each product on the front, instead of the back, as previously.” This was a nod to not only non-Hispanic populations, but also a growing Hispanic population that speaks predominantly English.

Prudencio Unanue passed away  March 17, 1976 and was buried in Cementerio Porta Coeli in Puerto Rico. However, even after his death, the business stayed in the family with Joseph A. Unanue, his son taking over in 1976. After his retirement, his brother Andy took over and then other brother Robert, who is currently still the CEO. Their current office is no longer in Manhattan, but New Jersey.  What is important is that not only is this a family business run by literal family, but they have a commitment to a communal family as well: that being the immigrant community. In 2006, Robert agreed to do an interview for CNN’s “A Day Without An Immigrant,” to talk about the about the importance of immigration. As a family, that had the opportunity to find more opportunities for themselves through immigrating. So, they spoke about the necessity of others having that chance. Hopefully, we will see more comments like this from this powerful family.