As challenging as predicting future growth spots is, though, charting the variety of Hispanic cooking styles is equally difficult. A simple dish of rice and beans, for instance, varies widely depending on whether it's made by a Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban or Peruvian. Some like black beans, some like red, and some like pink.
Purchasing habits are also influenced by the length of time a shopper has lived here. New immigrants often buy a 99-cent bag of dried beans that need to soak for hours to make traditional dishes, while their children, who earn more money, may buy more expensive, ready-to-eat canned beans to save time, Unanue says.
"As people assimilate, they go to the can," he says.
Dizzying product range
To meet divergent needs, Goya sells 1,600 products ranging from bags of rice to ready-to-eat, frozen empanadas, up from 1,100 five years ago. The mix includes 38 varieties of beans alone, including the "powerhouse" frijoles negros favored by Cubans and the recently added mayacobas favored by Peruvians, he says.
Just as critical as knowing the nuances of each group's taste buds is knowing how to get the products to them.
Almost daily, Goya drivers deliver cases of products to tens of thousands of U.S. food stores, from supermarket chains in Texas to independent mom-and-pop bodegas in New York City to the Wal-Mart chain. It's a more costly method than dropping off jumbo shipments once a week and letting stores warehouse goods, but it lets Goya offer greater variety and ensure that products match each store's demographics, Peter Unanue says.
"Pink beans might sell in New York City but not sell as well in Texas or California," Peter Unanue says.
Astrachan says there's no evidence that Hispanic-run businesses are any different than non-Hispanic businesses, especially at the billion-dollar level. But visitors can immediately sense that Goya is different when they enter its headquarters' surprisingly modest 1970s-era wood-paneled lobby.
There's no sleek, modern office furniture, high-price artwork, flat-screen TV screens or uniformed security guards. In what could be a symbol for Goya's throwback culture, the lobby instead features portraits of Unanue family members, posters that depict Goya products and two friendly, bilingual receptionists.
Here, it's still a badge of honor to stay at the company for decades. Rebecca Rodriguez-Llerena, a Goya employee for more than 35 years, for instance, worked her way up to running Goya's Secaucus warehouse, a job her father had when he retired after 37 years.
People's desks also look different. They're cluttered with framed photos of babies, relatives and famous Latinos employees have met at Goya functions, such as Latin jazz band leader Tito Puente and pop singer Marc Anthony. Many employees display flags that declare their background, whether Colombian, Dominican or Mexican.
The culture reflects that most Goya employees are Hispanic and speak Spanish, although neither is a requirement for employment. The familylike culture is intentional, Unanue says.
"We try to keep a family environment where there's a pride to being a part of this," he says. "And you can feel it."