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In conversation with Goya VP Bob Unanue on the $250 mn US expansion

Goya: from ingredient to prepared foods company in 10 years

By Maggie Hennessy , 17-Apr-2014

Goya's new 350,000-sq.-ft. manufacturing and distribution facility in Brookshire, TX.
Goya's new 350,000-sq.-ft. manufacturing and distribution facility in Brookshire, TX. "We coupled the distribution to manufacturing so we could be more efficient in that way," said Goya VP Bob Unanue.

Historically a mainstay brand in ethnic grocery stores and the international aisle of supermarkets, Goya has grown into much more than an ingredient company—with a portfolio of more than 2,000 SKUs ranging from beans and olive oil to coconut milk and prepared meals and a goal of making a notable impact on consumer nutrition education. 

On the heels of the company’s $250 mn expansion investment, which manifest in the creation of state-of-the-art manufacturing, production and distribution facilities in Texas, Georgia, California and New Jersey, FoodNavigator-USA caught up with Goya president and VP of Goya Houston Bob Unanue on the cultural significance of beans, the company’s "door-to-door" approach to market penetration and the future of nutrition.

This was a significant investment for Goya. Talk about the decision to expand production capacity so significantly.

We have 12 different distribution facilities in the US and another three manufacturing facilities. We’ve expanded every single one. The final phase of our expansion has been these last four facilities in California, New Jersey, Texas and Georgia.

Ten years ago in 2004, we had about 1,100 SKUs—not only our own but we sell for brands like Nestle, Quaker and a number of Latin brands from central and south America. We have more than doubled our portfolio of products during those years.

We’ve also left room for a lot of expansion. We have a store at every warehouse, so to speak, so we have a portfolio of products that cover the gamut for all ethnicities and can deliver door to door. DSD (direct-store delivery) is not unique, but not many companies do it. A lot go direct to warehouse, but that limits your portfolio. Because we cater to such a diverse group of consumers, we have a vast portfolio we can go neighborhood by neighborhood, zip code by zip code with, placing our products there to meet the demographics of each area.

Bob Unanue

How has brand recognition changed for Goya in the last several years?

Of course the bean tradition goes back many years to the Native Americans along with every group that has come into the United States. One of the gentlemen who works for us coined the phrase: ‘United by language, separated by bean’.

Beans and legumes are used by every ethnic community and also in the general market, so growth has been significant for us in both areas. Those products are kind of the focal point of our nutrition push. Although we’re historically an ingredient company, now a lot of our development focus is on more prepared foods. We’re capitalizing on the nutritional aspects of many of the products that are in our line that happen to be jewels. Beans, for example, are high in fiber, protein and antioxidants—there are more antioxidants in red beans than strawberries and blueberries.

Can you tell us a bit more about each of the four new facilities and their respective manufacturing and distribution areas of focus?

As far as distribution goes, we like to be in each major market within a radius of about 150 miles.

Brookshire, TX: Most of the growth we’re experiencing is in the Texas area. Not only is it a very business-friendly environment as an income tax-free state, but it’s a logistical jewel for us because it’s in center of the country. We moved from downtown Houston to Brookshire, about 30 miles from downtown to be near Beltway 8 and because of the availability of land, water and all those resources. We also coupled the distribution to manufacturing so we could be more efficient in that way.

The facility is right off I10, which runs to Jacksonville, New Orleans and Los Angeles. Since we import so much product, we’re able to bring beans and product like that into Texas and ship it. The facility is on one of the biggest aquifers in country.

Another reason for establishing a facility there was we’re putting in a rail line at the site. We decided to make it a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility as well. The 350,000-sq.-ft. factory is one of the fastest for processed foods, at about 1000 1-pound cans per minute with versatility to run different sizes and formats. We also own the water treatment, wells, power plants, etc., which is recycled and purified for the soaking and transporting beans and other products, as well as crop irrigation.

Jersey City, NJ [Goya’s East Coast headquarters, opening in the fall]:  This facility consolidates the operation we had in Long Island, NY, to New Jersey. We were also running out of room there, so we’ve basically increased the footprint from 240,000 to 900,000 sq. ft. Included in that is our packaging operation where we package rice mixes, dry beans and flour.

Atlanta, GA: [The 151,000-sq.-ft facility in] Atlanta basically filled the gap for the East Coast, because we run from New York State and Massachusetts, through New Jersey, Virginia and down to Orlando and Miami. In that way, Atlanta was kind of a missing link for us. But it also represents a fast-growing Latino market. Over the last 12 to 14 years, the US has become the second largest Hispanic country in the world behind Mexico and in front of Spain.The US now has 57 mn Hispanics and growing. That’s a 62% increase from the 2000 census. A lot of Hispanic immigrants found their way to Atlanta—mainly from Mexico and Central America.

Los Angeles, CA: In California, we are moving into a new facility that’s from 70,000 to 250,000 sq. ft. It covers all of California, Nevada, and other areas. And we’re looking to expand north into San Francisco and as those markets continue to grow.

What are the most exciting growth areas for the business, in terms of product innovation, regions and consumer segments, and how does health and wellness factor into that?

It’s a very exciting time for Goya. We’re finding that in addition to all these great nutritional attributes of beans, there’s a synergy of nutrition when you combine them with rice in that you get a complete protein. So we’re expanding into products with quinoa and organic brown rice, as well as other organic rices and beans.

We’ve also been working with the White House on USDA’s MyPlate, as they wanted us to reach out to Hispanic populations, because they’re more obese and more diabetic than the general community.

We collaborated with White House chef and nutrition guru Sam Kass on logos for MiPlato, which can now be found on 366 million cans of our beans. We launched a MiPlato cookbook last year, and we’re looking now at other ways we can expand that program.

We’re also doing gluten-free and low sodium product lines. Low sodium has been quite successful. In addition to our beans, we’re the only company pioneering low-sodium olives, capers and pimentos. A lot of our community cooks with olives. We’ve also launched low-sodium tomato rice mixes, coconut milk, coconut water, and guavana, which has anti-cancer attributes. We’re working to highlight on product labels more of the nutritional aspects of our products. That’s a lot of our focus going forward.

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