If Goya Foods wanted to raise brand awareness this summer, it got its wish.
It's been one month since Robert Unanue, CEO of the family-owned Latin food brand, created a furor among the Hispanic community by praising President Donald Trump during a White House meeting, calling him a "blessed" leader. His comments sparked an immediate boycott of Goya products, with many Latinos citing Trump's treatment of family separations at the southern border and his attempts to deport young "dreamer" immigrants.
Trump and his daughter Ivanka doubled down amid the boycott, posting photos on social media of themselves with Goya products, prompting ethics inquiries and further fueling the fire between the White House and the Latino community. The League of United Latin American Citizens called Unanue’s words “insensitive, calloused and disrespectful to the workers and consumers who buy Goya Foods products.”
However, despite four weeks on the public stage, just $10 million of that free marketing was positive — and the brand received $47 million worth of negative publicity, Apex Marketing Group told NBC News. The remaining $35 million was neutral.
Promotion from a sitting president can give brands millions of dollars in media exposure, Eric Smallwood, president of Apex Marketing, said. However, “The overall reaction of support of that product/brand will likely be impacted with a variety of consumer reactions, which could affect immediate or future sales or marketing campaigns.”
Sales figures for the privately held brand were not available and Goya declined to return calls and emails for comment.
Carlos Cabrera, a Cuban-born American who lives in Weehawken, New Jersey, enjoys cooking and follows politics closely. When Unanue said, “We are truly blessed,” to have Trump as president, Cabrera told NBC News he resented the use of the word “we.”
“You are not speaking for the greater Hispanic community,” Cabrera said, adding that he would not buy Goya products.
His sister, Ramona Cabrera, a hair stylist in Jacksonville, Florida, disagrees.
“The reason we got out of Cuba is because it was Communist. This is a free country and you can support who you want,” she told NBC News, adding that she was against the boycott because she believes it could cause job losses.
“A change of leadership and a public apology. I think that will be coming.”
Unanue’s comments to President Trump came at a time when Goya has been dealing with family members’ desire to explore options for the company. It hired Goldman Sachs to explore a potential sale of the $3 billion brand, according to CNBC.
Goya has been a big beneficiary this year of consumers’ increased desire for cans and packages of beans. Bean consumption was already on the rise as consumers increasingly shun meat in favor of other protein sources. Then the pandemic hit, and households stocked up. Goya reported that sales of some bean varieties rose by as much as 400 percent, The New York Times reported in March.
Nielsen, which includes sales of Latin foods in its grocery tracking, noted that revenue from bean sales in the U.S. rose by 51.1 percent during the 19 weeks through July 11, versus the year prior.
Meanwhile, some rival brands are seeing positive momentum in the days since the Goya boycott. Bill Penzey, chief executive of Penzey’s Spices, headquartered in Milwaukee, told NBC News that his products have seen a boost in interest since the Goya boycott and that he’s considering launching a new Puerto Rican-style Adobo later this year, in part to capitalize on the current opening for alternative spice brands.
“Of the 412 items that we sell, our Adobo seasoning was 75th in popularity and in the week since [the Goya boycott], it’s moved to 40th,” he told NBC News at the time of the boycott.
“I think they’re going to be in for some trouble,” said Penzey of Goya’s long-term sales. “A change of leadership and a public apology. I think that will be coming.”
Steve Sando, president of heirloom bean seller Rancho Gordo, based in Napa, California, told NBC News that sales are already up 150 percent this year — but “this just adds to it,” he said, adding that he saw sales spike by between 7-10 percent in the wake of the Goya fracas.
Other spice brands, including Badia and McCormick, declined to comment on their own sales.
Adriana Waterston, a senior vice president at Horowitz Research, which specializes in consumer insights, said boycotts aren’t about putting companies out of business, they’re about putting short-term pressure on companies to rethink their policies.
“This brand that was held in such untouchable high esteem by their loyal customers,” she said. “I think the damage has been done, but we’ll see what the impact is on the actual business.”