FOR many Americans, the "wall of yellow" that marks the Hispanic section at the grocery store is still uncharted territory.
But that will not be the case for long if Joseph Unanue, president of Goya Foods Inc., has anything to do with it.
Goya Foods, founded by Mr. Unanue's father in 1936, has grown rapidly in recent years. Despite the recession, Goya's sales increased from $330 million in 1990 to $410 million in 1991. Sales jumped again last year to $453 million, making Goya the nation's largest Hispanic-owned firm, according to Hispanic Business magazine.
"This is Goya's year," says Hector Cantu, deputy managing editor of Hispanic Business. "They are really doing a good job expanding across the country."
Unanue (pronounced u-NAH-nu-way) projects that Goya will do $1 billion in business by the "turn of the millenium." "We will also be better known," he says.
"We're trying to target the general market," says Robert Unanue, a vice president and Joseph Unanue's nephew. "We're doing more advertising in English to catch third- and fourth-generation Hispanics and also to go after the Anglo market."
Since 1980, the buying power of Hispanics in the United States has tripled to about $200 billion.
DRI/McGraw-Hill, a consulting firm, projects that the Hispanic population will grow 41 percent this decade compared with a 5 percent increase for everyone else. Hispanics will become the dominant minority by 2015, outnumbering blacks.
A walk through Goya's bustling warehouse and bean-packing plant brings several surprises to the uninitiated: It turns out that beans are canned, then cooked, rather than the other way around. Goya makes its own cans, prints its own boxes, and aims to control every aspect of production to maintain high quality.
But service has been the primary focus for Goya's 1,800 employees recently. The company has added four new distribution facilities in Chicago, Houston, Webster, Mass., and West Deptford, N.J.
"When you can guarantee next-day delivery to the supermarkets, you are ahead of everybody," says Conrad Colon, executive vice president and director of marketing. "Soon after we expanded into these new markets, we extended our sales force as well."
During a recession, many firms trim advertising budgets to bolster profits. Goya has not followed that pattern. "We've been increasing our advertising," Robert Unanue says. Without as much advertising clutter, it is easier to get the message across, he says. Goya has been fine-tuning its advertising message to appeal to the diverse Hispanic market.
"The language has to be neutral," Mr. Colon says. "You have to take a little bit of each country and put it in the ad to get balanced for all nationalities."
The balancing act involves keeping up with the fast-changing ethnic makeup of neighborhoods. Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, and Argentinians all have different names for the same bean, Colon says. At least once each week, Goya's sales force visits each bodega, or neighborhood grocery store, to talk to the owner and customers. As neighborhoods change, Goya can adjust the product mix and the words on the packaging.
"We try to be out there with products that groups are familiar with, that remind them of home," Robert Unanue says.
Goya is creating a blizzard of new products to reach new markets and reclaim old ones. "We developed about 100 new items to replace items that were losing strength," Colon says. For example, Goya has sold canned pasteles, or meat pies, for more than 40 years. But second- and third-generation Hispanics stopped buying canned pasteles. So Goya came out with a frozen product. The result? "We recovered that market," Colon says. "We are selling now to a different generation, following their trends, habits, and
Keeping a family-owned firm on an even keel is something the Unanues know a lot about. Goya is run by Joseph and his brother Francisco (president of Goya de Puerto Rico). Both are sons of founder Don Prudencio Unanue, who immigrated to New York from Spain via Puerto Rico. Eight third-generation Unanues work at Goya.
"When the kids were young, we'd bring them into work in the warehouse or in the packing room - not the glamorous jobs," Joseph Unanue says. "You have to work them up through the organization."
The old-fashioned work ethic still seems to be the standard for Goya employees, whether they are family or not. Robert Unanue says wryly that employees work half-days - meaning 12 hours out of 24.
"We teach them that if they want to get somewhere in the world, they have to work," Joseph Unanue says. "If they like it, they'll stay." Hard work has paid off for the Unanues, who are included in Forbes magazine's list of "great family fortunes" with a net worth of about $400 million.
Conrad Colon, a 35-year Goya veteran but not a family member, says that "in many families, when a son goes to school and graduates from college, he comes into the business with a big title and starts running a department. Not here. It takes years of work before you get a title in this company. You have to earn it first."