Goya Foods’ CEO faces po­lit­i­cal back­lash

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - ASSOCIATED PRESS

Chief Robert Unanue’s praise for Pres­i­dent Trump draws swift calls to boy­cott the brand.

SIL­VER SPRING, Md. — The su­per­charged po­lit­i­cal land­scape in the U.S. has grown even more per­ilous for com­pa­nies with the 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion loom­ing, as Goya, a food com­pany with a tremen­dously loyal fol­low­ing, has dis­cov­ered.

The com­pany, which makes many prod­ucts used in His­panic and Latino cui­sine, but whose fol­low­ing ex­tends well beyond, is fac­ing a swift back­lash af­ter its chief ex­ec­u­tive praised Pres­i­dent Trump at a White House event.

Goya was founded in Man­hat­tan in 1936 by Don Pru­den­cio Unanue and his wife, Carolina, im­mi­grants from Spain. The com­pany calls it­self the largest His­panic-owned food com­pany in the United States.

Robert Unanue, a grand­son and now Goya CEO, spoke at a Rose Gar­den event an­nounc­ing a “His­panic pros­per­ity ini­tia­tive” on Thurs­day.

“We’re all truly blessed, at the same time, to have a leader like Pres­i­dent Trump who is a builder,” Unanue said while stand­ing on a podium be­side Trump.

Al­most im­me­di­ately, hash­tags #Boy­cottGoya, #Goy­aFoods and #Goy­away be­gan trend­ing on so­cial me­dia plat­forms such as Twit­ter, with scorn com­ing seem­ingly from all di­rec­tions, in­clud­ing some big po­lit­i­cal names.

That back­lash was an­swered by Trump sup­port­ers, show­ing how any brand, whether mak­ers of cloth­ing or, like Goya, beans, olive oil and adobo sea­son­ing, faces po­ten­tial dan­ger ahead of what may be­come a highly con­tentious elec­tion.

Those push­ing for a boy­cott of Goya prod­ucts cited Trump’s his­tory of deroga­tory com­ments and harsh poli­cies to­ward Lati­nos, most no­tably the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pol­icy of sep­a­rat­ing im­mi­grant fam­i­lies at the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der.

For­mer pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Julián Cas­tro was among those to take to Twit­ter, say­ing Unanue praised some­one who vil­i­fies Goya’s cus­tomer base.

Rep. Alexan­dria Oca­sioCortez of New York said she would learn to make from scratch Goya’s pop­u­lar adobo sea­son­ing blend.

The back­lash was broad, with peo­ple post­ing videos of Goya prod­ucts be­ing dumped out or do­nated.

Goya did not im­me­di­ately com­ment.

White House ad­vi­sor Kellyanne Con­way in an in­ter­view on “Fox & Friends” called Goya a food com­pany that is “really the Amer­i­can dream.”

“It’s just a shame that peo­ple make ev­ery­thing so politi­cized, in­clud­ing food,” Con­way said.

Yet the po­ten­tial dan­ger for com­pa­nies be­came clear al­most from the first day of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. A pub­lic state­ment, po­lit­i­cal do­na­tions or sup­port can bring a tor­rent of un­wanted pub­lic­ity.

In 2017, the CEO of Un­der Ar­mour walked back com­ments in which he said Trump was “an as­set to the coun­try.”

In a full-page ad­ver­tise­ment in the Bal­ti­more Sun, where Un­der Ar­mour is based, then-CEO Kevin Plank wrote that his choice of words “did not ac­cu­rately re­flect my in­tent.” He said

Un­der Ar­mour be­lieves “im­mi­gra­tion is a source of strength, di­ver­sity and in­no­va­tion for global com­pa­nies based in Amer­ica.”

The com­pany also said it op­posed the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s travel poli­cies.

Last year, the lux­ury gym Equinox and in­door cy­cling stu­dio SoulCy­cle faced a back­lash over a Trump fundraiser.

Merck CEO Ken­neth Fra­zier, at the time one of only four Black lead­ers of a For­tune 500 com­pany, was the first to re­sign from Trump’s busi­ness coun­cils over the pres­i­dent’s re­marks on the white na­tion­al­ist vi­o­lence in Char­lottesvill­e, Va., in 2017.

Some busi­ness lead­ers quickly fol­lowed Fra­zier’s lead, in­clud­ing the chief ex­ec­u­tives of Un­der Ar­mour and In­tel. Oth­ers, in­clud­ing the heads of Wal­mart and John­son & John­son, pub­licly con­demned Trump’s re­marks but ini­tially re­sisted pres­sure to leave the coun­cils. Within days, how­ever, the bal­loon­ing up­roar pushed the com­pa­nies to shift course, and the pan­els fell apart.

De­mo­graphic changes and the mas­sive Black Lives

Mat­ter move­ment are mak­ing race a piv­otal is­sue in the up­com­ing elec­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to the Pew Re­search Cen­ter, 13.3% of el­i­gi­ble vot­ers in the U.S. this year are Latino, a record high.

Trump has been work­ing hard re­cently to court Latino vot­ers, who could swing the vote in states such as Ari­zona and Florida. On Wed­nes­day, he wel­comed Pres­i­dent An­drés Manuel López Obrador to the White House with lofty lan­guage, call­ing Mex­ico a cher­ished part­ner.

Trump’s tone was in stark con­trast to when he kicked off his 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign by re­fer­ring to Mex­i­cans as “rapists” and rail­ing against mi­grants en­ter­ing the United States il­le­gally.

Many who came to Goya’s de­fense Fri­day pointed out the com­pany’s his­tory of com­mu­nity ser­vice.

In March and April this year, Goya do­nated more than 300,000 pounds of food, or about 270,000 meals, to food banks and other or­ga­ni­za­tions as part of its pan­demic re­lief ef­fort. The com­pany said it also do­nated more than 20,000 pro­tec­tive masks.

Last month, Goya showed up with thou­sands of pounds of food for fam­i­lies in the Bronx and Har­lem that have been af­fected by COVID-19, and it gave food to a pub­lic school in Queens.

Goya lists 2,500 prod­ucts, in­clud­ing sea­son­ings and cook­ing oils, beans and other Latin Amer­i­can sta­ples as well as frozen prod­ucts and snacks. Its of­fer­ings are ubiq­ui­tous in gro­cery stores across the U.S., some­times tak­ing up their own aisle.

‘We’re all truly blessed, at the same time, to have a leader like Pres­i­dent Trump who is a builder.’ — Robert Unanue, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Goya Foods, speak­ing at a Rose Gar­den event Thurs­day

Evan Vucci Associated Press

CEO Robert Unanue, left, was hit by calls to boy­cott Goya af­ter he praised Pres­i­dent Trump on Thurs­day.

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