Joseph A. Unanue, former president of Goya Foods. (Courtesy Goya Foods)

Former president of Goya Foods dead at 88, remembered for his philanthropy

Joseph A. Unanue, the former president of Goya Foods, the largest Hispanic-owned food company, passed away Wednesday at his home in Alpine, New Jersey.  Friends and associates say Unanue was a driving force in Latino philanthropy as well as in business.

“We lost a great man and a dear member of our family, who will be missed greatly,” said Bob Unanue, current president of Goya Foods, in a statement. “Uncle Joe always believed in the importance of family, which helped us to lay down the foundation of what Goya stands for. He was an iconic businessman not only within the food industry, but among the Hispanic community, and most of all to La Gran Familia Goya.”

Goya Foods, the nearly $1 billion Hispanic food product empire employing 1,200 employees, was founded by Unanue’s father, Prudencio, in 1936 after emigrating from Spain. Prudencio died in 1976, leaving the company to his four sons. Joseph A. Unanue began working at Goya in 1952 and served as president of the Secaucus, NJ-based company from 1976 to 2004. During this time, with the help of his brother Frank, the company grew from a regional food company to a global brand with 15 manufacturing and distribution facilities worldwide. After 27 years as president, he handed over leadership of the company to relatives in February of 2004.

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Unanue and his wife, Carmen Ana, described as devout Catholics, dedicated much of their lives to philanthropic causes, including founding the Joseph A. Unanue Latino Institute for Latin American Studies at Seton Hall University, named after a son who died at age 41 from cancer.

The couple have also contributed generously to El Museo del Barrio, a museum dedicated to Latino arts in New York City.

“Joseph Unanue was an unique, extraordinary figure in Latino philanthropy,” says Tony Bechara, artist, chairman of the board of El Museo del Barrio, and a friend of Unanue. “He was an outstanding representative of his generation, a WWII hero, a modest and graceful man. El Museo del Barrio is today what it is thanks in great part to the generous contributions of Mr. Unanue and his wife, Carmen Ana.”

According to his family, he was very proud of having served in the U.S. Army during WWII and even received a Bronze Star for his heroic service and conduct during the Battle of the Bulge.

Unanue is survived by his wife, Carmen Ana, three daughters, Mari, Maribel, and Mimi, and his son Andy; as well as 16 grandchildren and one great grandchild.

Claudio I. Remeseira contributed to this report.

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