Through a Public Relations Lens: Goya Foods
Updated: Jul 13, 2020
This past week was a media firestorm for Goya Foods, Inc. — an American company that produces a brand of what its website calls “authentic Latino cuisine.” The company, founded in 1936, promotes itself as the largest, Hispanic-owned food company in the United States and is popular with American and immigrant households.
Robert Unanue, CEO of Goya Foods, Inc., praised President Donald Trump at a recent meeting for Hispanic business leaders held at the White House. The event took place as planned--that is until a few unexpected comments made by Unanue made some people sit up and take notice.
"We're all truly blessed at the same time to have a leader like President Trump, who is a builder,” Unanue said. Later that same day, in a prepared statement issued by Goya Foods, Unanue was quoted as saying: “Our country faces a time of historic challenge but we will meet that challenge together and continue to work towards greatness, focus on a strong recovery, and hold onto the hope for a healthier future for all."
It is well-documented that Trump has implemented controversial anti-immigration policies and has made incendiary remarks over the years by accusing Latinos (specifically Mexicans) of bringing drugs to the United States and of being rapists and criminals. This is why Unanue's public support of Trump has hit especially hard for those who have been loyal customers of Goya Foods for years and even decades. His comments have alienated the company’s core market and the backlash was swift.
“Unanue “thinks we’re ‘blessed to have a leader’ who’s letting this pandemic kill us, cage our children, and constantly dehumanizes us. Yo Goya, tell your man to stop praising a racist. Latinos made him and his family rich by buying Goya products for decades.”
-- Voto Latino
Many in the Latino community have called for a boycott of Goya Foods using the hashtags #Goyaway and #BoycottGoya and social media influencers such as Eric Rivera, chef and owner of Addo in Seattle, Wash., have shared their own food alternatives to make it easier for people to avoid buying Goya products. Even the online publication L.A. Taco publicly announced on its website that "effective July 9, 2020 at 3:13 p.m." they had ended their sponsorship partnership with Goya Foods over the company’s affiliation with President Trump.
So, let's take a look at this situation from a public relations and marketing standpoint:
I suspect that the Goya Foods marketing team may be working hard behind the scenes in "crisis mode" to try and minimize the damage of their CEO's comments. However, the bottom line is that Unanue is the public face of the company. He has made an appearance on a national news network to double-down on his initial statement in support of Trump by stating: "I'm not apologizing." When your CEO is participating in interviews and making public statements on behalf of the company, that supersedes any counter-efforts the marketing team can do to make a substantial impact.
Unfortunately, the Goya Foods brand may take a financial hit. Companies spend millions of dollars and many years building positive brand equity. The most recognizable consumer brands, such as Nike and Coca-Cola, are valued in the billions! Unfortunately, it can take only one incident to damage and/or destroy a brand.
Consumers pay a price premium to do business with a company they know, trust, and admire. When that is compromised, it may take years for a company to recover. Remember the tampering of Tylenol bottles? How about when Volkswagen got caught cheating on its emissions tests? What about the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 catching on fire? All of these were public relations disasters and are examples of how negative brand equity affects the company's bottom line (profit margins).
There appears to be a disturbing disconnect between the company's CEO and the majority of his company’s loyal consumer base. Why is that? At this point, does he even care? I would be remiss if I did not mention that there are Goya Foods customers that actually support Unanue's comments about President Trump and it is important to note that no group of people is monolithic. However, as the company’s CEO should be very concerned with retaining the majority of his company’s existing customers. Marketing 101 is knowing that it costs a heck of a lot less to retain an existing customer base than to acquire a new one.
When it comes to longevity, it is imperative that companies honor, recognize, and validate the communities that support and buy their products and/or services. We recently saw this demonstrated with #BlackoutTuesday when local and national companies showed their support in the fight against racial injustices happening to African Americans across the country by publicly making statements and instituting policies recognizing that there is still much work that needs to be done.
Perhaps after this debacle settles down for Goya Foods, the leadership team will take an objective look at what steps could have been taken to avoid this public relations disaster. It is imperative that the company keep in mind who its loyal customer base is and not lose sight of that important aspect. The difficult part will be for Goya Foods to own up to the missteps it made in the first place. We will see.