For many Americans, a pantry without Goya products is difficult to imagine. The company’s packets of sazón – spice and seasoning blends combining flavors such as garlic, cilantro, annatto – and shakers of adobo are many home cooks’ secret ingredient. Its cans of black beans are a staple.
But now, some are seeking out alternatives to the widely available brand after activists called for a boycott of Goya after an appearance in the White House Rose Garden by the company’s CEO, Robert Unanue, in which the executive heaped praise on President Donald Trump.
“We’re all truly blessed, at the same time, to have a leader like President Trump who is a builder, and that’s what my grandfather did,” Unanue said at the event in which Trump signed an executive order launching a Hispanic “prosperity initiative.” And with those words, which quickly permeated social media like strands of saffron into a broth, a boycott was born.
Even after the backlash threatened his business, Unanue did not disavow his words. In an appearance on Fox News’s “Fox & Friends” on Friday, he noted that he had said positive things about President Barack Obama and had worked with former first lady Michelle Obama and called the boycott “suppression of speech.”
“So you’re allowed to talk good or to praise one president, but you’re not allowed to aid in economic and educational prosperity?” he said. “And you make a positive comment – all of a sudden, it’s not acceptable.”
Many food-related boycotts aren’t so challenging for consumers to adhere to: When people avoided Papa John’s after its founder blamed Black National Football League players’ protests for a dip in sales, they could just call Pizza Hut. Those snubbing Chick-fil-A after its CEO’s comments against same-sex marriage in 2012 could easily get their nuggets elsewhere.
A pantry without Goya, reportedly the country’s largest producer of Hispanic foods, is difficult for some to contemplate. The company’s products are widely available, and until Wednesday’s controversy, they inspired a lot of brand loyalty. But soon after the Goya backlash began, people started sharing ideas and alternatives.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., indicated that she would be doing some more home cooking.
“Oh look, it’s the sound of me Googling ‘how to make your own Adobo’” she tweeted along with a clip of Unanue’s White House remarks.
Many people supported the idea of shopping instead from smaller and other Hispanic-owned businesses, circulating lists of purveyors. Seattle chef Eric Rivera, who owns the buzzy Addo, promoted his own line of seasonings, offering people a discount code for the boycott.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment my entire life,” he tweeted. “I make sazón and I’m not a Trump supporter. If you support Goya you support Trump.”
Historian, chef and cookbook author Maricel Presilla says Goya occupies a particularly important role for Hispanic people in the United States. For those in small towns, she says, its products are often the only options available.
“To be able to go to an aisle and find those products – the rice you might like or the beans – that’s a lifesaver.” Just as importantly, she says, the company’s success “beyond the bodega” is a point of pride.
“Goya has done so much good – it’s helped develop a sense of identity,” she says. “Anybody who is non-Latin walks by and they see these products, they can say, ‘Well, they have importance.’”
Presilla says she doesn’t agree with Trump’s politics, but doesn’t plan on boycotting the label. She said that, as a businessman, Unanue probably “should have kept his mouth shut,” but she says she’s against stifling freedom of expression in any form.
Rivera said hearing support for Trump from a beloved brand was jarring.
“Goya is like our Nike,” Rivera says. “So it’s like seeing the jump man with a MAGA hat on.”
It stings particularly hard right now, he says, with Hispanic workers put at particular risk during the pandemic.
“We’re being told we’re disposable ... we have to go to the meatpacking plant, or work in hospitals and in restaurants,” he says. “And the way you get out of all of that is that you take your lunch break and you eat your Goya.”
Rivera, who has been selling his own sazón blends for three years, says orders have been pouring in – a thousand since Thursday night. He has gotten messages from people looking for substitutes for other Goya products, such as guava paste and canned beans.
“I’m going through their product lineup, and I’m like ‘Yeah, I can have this for you by next week,’” he says. “This is what you dream about as a chef, that people want to eat your food.”