On Thursday, March 30, 2017, the Business, Industry & Community Council (BICC) of Bloomfield College welcomed Goya Foods, Inc. executives to campus.
Goya, the largest Hispanic-owned food purveyor in the United States, is 80-years-old. The company now has over 2,500 products to its name, employs more than 500 in Jersey City (where its headquarters is located), 64 in Secaucus, and more than 4,500 worldwide.
The evening began with authentic Hispanic cuisine, catered by Gourmet Dining using Goya products. The panel was moderated by Bloomfield College Board of Trustee member Hector Banegas, Senior Vice President/Senior Wealth Planning Strategist of Wells Fargo.
The Executive Goya Panel was comprised of Rafael Toro, Director of Public Relations; Sandra Gonzalez, Senior Counsel; Miguel Ferrer, Director of Credit; and Fernando Desa, Executive Chef and Product Development Manager.
“I just want to take a moment to congratulate the students at Bloomfield College,” said Toro, who had just learned that out of 2,200 colleges and universities in the United States, Bloomfield College was ranked 20th in upward mobility. “You are doing your best to better your lives.”
Toro, who once aimed to be a school principal, joined Goya Foods, Inc. in 1985 as Director of Public Relations where he first set out to extend Goya’s community outreach to the Dominican, Mexican, South and Central American communities. As the Hispanic market grew in the United States, so did Goya Foods’ facilities, product lines, and the company’s marketing and public relations departments. In turn, Toro’s responsibilities expanded and led him to play a role in Goya’s crossover of the Hispanic market into mainstream America.
Toro currently oversees Goya’s public relations department including public affairs, media relations, community activities, corporate contributions and food donations as well as event sponsorships, production and cultural programs. In celebration of Goya’s 75th anniversary in 2011, Toro coordinated the launch of a yearlong media and event campaign to honor Goya’s history and success that included the initiation of Goya Gives, a national campaign to fight against hunger and to encourage others to help those in need.
“Goya’s story, like many of ours, is an immigrant story,” said Toro. “All he was, was an immigrant who was trying to feed his family,”
Goya was founded in 1936, by Prudencio Unanue Ortiz from Valle de Mena, Spain. Unanue emigrated to Puerto Rico, then later moved to New York City. Prudencio believed that his name was too difficult to pronounce for American customers, so he purchased the name of one of his suppliers, a Moroccan sardine company named "Goya." The company was initially set up in the Financial District of Manhattan, importing Spanish foods like olives and olive oil.
“As you go through your career, you have to make adjustments and receive feedback,” said Ferrer, who told the crowd in the Robert V. Van Fossan Theatre that being bilingual is a major advantage. “You have to take all feedback as valid in order to progress in your career. You also should seek out brilliant people who can mentor you.”
Ferrer joined Goya Foods as Director of Credit in October of 2010. He manages the Credit, Collection, and Cash Application department for $650 million, covering the Northeast Division of Goya, as well as a staff of 20 employees and three managers. His main responsibility is to improve cash flow and reduce unnecessary debt through negotiation and mitigation of the major risk associated with the bankruptcy of large supermarket chains. He manages the credit and accounts receivable department for risk of $40 million and over 13,000 customer portfolios.
Through negotiating better compliance with cash discount terms, Ferrer has significantly improved Goya’s cash flow by $4 million. He has improved the overall efficiency of the company by leveraging the automation and expansion of electronic commerce for 50% of Goya’s customer network.
Ferrer graduated from Rutgers College with a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology and continued his education to obtain a Master’s Degree in Business Administration at Rutgers Graduate School of Management. He currently lives with his family in New Jersey.
“As I was going through school, and people discovered I was Latina, there was a preconceived notion that my ethnicity, and not my hard work, had something to do with me getting into certain schools,” said Gonzalez. “I just told them, I still have to pass the same tests and Bar exam as you.”
The first of her family to graduate from college, Gonzalez obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science with a minor in Business from Penn State University. She continued on to receive her law degree from Fordham University School of Law in New York City and a Master’s of Laws in Taxation from Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C.
“Technology has definitely made my work/life balance easier to manage,” she said. “Now you can step out of the office and still be connected. But be warned, in the speed of things one has to be diligent and careful in their work.”
Gonzalez, who noted networking led her to Goya, has served Goya as in-house counsel for the past 12 years. Her focus has been managing a variety of complex real estate transactions and commercial contracts for the Company. She negotiated and oversaw contracts and incentives for the acquisition and development of Goya’s largest expansion in the Company’s history of its manufacturing and distribution facilities in the United States, totaling more than of 2,000,000 square feet.
She has also negotiated multi-million dollar licensing agreements that have comprehensively changed the way Goya forecasts and manages its purchases (demand planning) and inventory (warehouse management system) throughout Goya’s facilities worldwide.
In addition, Gonzalez oversees and provides counsel to various business lines within the Company on a broad array of legal, risk management, and compliance issues. She also manages the Company’s corporate governance and works closely with Goya’s outside counsel on a variety of litigation matters and commercial disputes.
“Use adversity to make you better,” stated Gonzalez. “Put in the hard work. It’s called ‘work’ for a reason.”
Based on her accomplishments as a successful Latina, Gonzalez was the recipient of the 2016 El Diario Mujeres Destacadas Award. Originally from Queens, Gonzalez is now a long time resident of New Jersey.
“We are a two language country now,” said Chef Desa, who spoke to the crowd about the Latin fusion dishes he’s been creating. ““It is exciting to celebrate our diverse heritage through the blending of such unique flavors.”
Chef Desa joined Goya 10 years ago and works hand-in-hand with the company's sales and marketing departments to explore the usage of new products from Latin America and adapt them for Goya's consumer markets. Through extensive research in Goya's test kitchens, as well as off-site demonstrations, he incorporates these products into signature recipes available to the public and accessible via Goya’s website.
Capturing the traditional tastes and cooking methods that have been handed down through generations, the Puerto Rico native works to retain the flavors of Latin American cuisine while incorporating new techniques that can be easily duplicated by every-day chefs. His ability to unlock the potential of new products displays the brand's commitment to authenticity and refined Latin American cuisine.
Desa draws inspiration from his worldly culinary experiences and has appeared on various national and international television programs in the general and U.S. Hispanic market. Chef Desa is an active member of some of the largest culinary associations like the ACF, RCA, IFT and IACP.
At the end of the night, the floor was opened to students. When asked about internship and job opportunities, the answer was simple.
“If you want an internship or job at Goya….apply,” said Toro, bluntly, and the crowd laughed. “There are opportunities available depending on specific skills. You can’t get in if you don’t apply.”
Many of the students wondered about Goya’s commitment to health awareness, to which they learned that Goya has both organic and low-sodium products.
In addition, Toro has cultivated a strong relationship with the White House and the Obama administration and helped to facilitate former President Barack Obama’s recognition of Goya, the only company that has been honored by the President. He also facilitated Goya’s collaboration with former First Lady Michelle Obama to launch MyPlate/MiPlato, a national health initiative to educate Americans on how to eat healthier.
A student then asked the panel how they give back to their communities and care for the environment.
“We don’t just give back to the community, we are a part of the community,” said Toro.
Through Goya Gives, the company donated one million pounds of food to The United Way on the 75th day of the year. Goya sponsors three orphanages in South America and collaborates with over 250 nonprofit organizations.
Toro also initiated the annual Goya Scholarship Fund and the Goya Employee Scholarship Fund to provide students with a four-year college scholarship of $20,000 in honor of Goya’s dedication and commitment to higher education.
The last question of the night came from Moderator Banegas, who wanted to know Goya’s core value in one word.
“Family,” all four executives answered in unison.