SILVER SPRING, Md. -- The supercharged U.S. political landscape has grown potentially more perilous for companies ahead of the 2020 presidential election as Goya, a food company with a tremendously loyal following, discovered this week.
The company that makes products used in many Hispanic cuisines, but whose following extends well outside of that range, is getting some backlash after its chief executive officer praised President Donald Trump at a White House event.
Goya Foods was founded in Manhattan in 1936 by Prudencio Unanue and his wife Carolina, immigrants from Spain. The company calls itself the largest Hispanic-owned food company in the United States.
Bob Unanue, a grandson and now president of Goya Foods, was at the White House on Thursday to announce that the company would donate 1 million cans of chickpeas and another 1 million pounds of food to food banks in the United States as part of the Hispanic Prosperity Initiative, an executive order from Trump that was created to improve access to educational and economic opportunities.
"We are truly blessed, at the same time, to have a leader like President Trump who is a builder," Unanue said standing at a lectern beside Trump.
Almost immediately, #BoycottGoya, #GoyaFoods and #Goyaway began trending on social media platforms with scorn coming seemingly from all directions, including Hollywood and Washington.
That backlash was countered online by Trump supporters, showing how any brand whether they make clothing or, as Goya does, beans, olive oil and adobo, faces potential danger ahead of what is already a highly contentious election.
Those pushing for a boycott of Goya products cited a history of derogatory comments from Trump and harsh policies toward Hispanics, most notably, the administration's policy of separating families at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York said she would learn to make from scratch some of the Latin cuisine that Goya sells. Lin-Manuel Miranda, writer and star of the Broadway blockbuster "Hamilton," echoed the congresswoman.
But the backlash was broad, with many posting videos of Goya products being dumped out or donated.
Unanue stood by his words in the Rose Garden during a Friday appearance on "Fox & Friends."
"I'm not apologizing for saying -- and especially when you're called by the president of the United States -- you're gonna say, 'no I'm sorry I'm busy no thank you?," Unanue said. "I didn't say that to the Obamas and I didn't say that to President Trump."
Unanue has been a longtime donor to Republican political causes, with the exception of contributions to New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democrat.
Goya moved its headquarters from Manhattan to New Jersey in the 1970s.
White House adviser Kellyanne Conway on Friday called the company "the American dream."
"It's just a shame that people make everything so politicized, including food," Conway said, also on "Fox & Friends."
Many of those who came to Goya's defense Friday pointed to the company's history of philanthropy.
This spring, Goya donated over 300,000 pounds of food, or about 270,000 meals, to food banks and other organizations as part of its pandemic relief effort. The company said it also donated more 20,000 protective masks. Last month, Goya showed up with thousands of pounds of food for families in the Bronx and Harlem who have been affected by the pandemi. It donated food to a public school in Queens.
Goya lists 2,500 products, from seasonings and cooking oils, to beans and other Latin American staples as well as frozen products and snacks. Their offerings are ubiquitous in grocery stores across the U.S., sometimes taking up their own entire aisle.
Information for this article was contributed by Astrid Galvan of The Associated Press and by Derrick Bryson Taylor of The New York Times.