Goya Foods, whose products are a staple of American households, became the target of a boycott and considerable backlash on Friday after its leader praised President Trump during a visit to the White House.
Bob Unanue, the president of Goya Foods, was at the White House on Thursday to announce that the company would donate one million cans of chickpeas and another one million pounds of food to food banks in the United States as part of the Hispanic Prosperity Initiative, an executive order from Mr. Trump that was created to improve access to educational and economic opportunities.
During the appearance, Mr. Unanue said the United States was “blessed” to have Mr. Trump as its leader.
“We’re all truly blessed at the same time to have a leader like President Trump, who is a builder,” he said. “And so we have an incredible builder. And we pray. We pray for our leadership, our president, and we pray for our country, that we will continue to prosper and to grow.”
Mr. Unanue’s comments drew swift condemnation on social media from people who were upset that a company whose products are popular among Latinos and others would so openly support a president who has vilified immigrants, especially those from Latin America, and whose harsh policies have targeted them. The hashtags #Goyaway and #BoycottGoya quickly formed to share criticism from many, including those who routinely buy Goya products.
Among those angered by Mr. Unanue’s comments were Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the democratic socialist from the Bronx, who on Thursday retweeted an image of the news conference from the White House, adding, “Oh look, it’s the sound of me Googling ‘how to make your own Adobo.’”
Julián Castro, the former housing secretary and Democratic former presidential candidate, noted that Goya Foods, a family business, had been a staple of Latino households for generations. “Now their CEO, Bob Unanue, is praising a president who villainizes and maliciously attacks Latinos for political gain. Americans should think twice before buying their products. #Goyaway.”
The actor and activist Lin-Manuel Miranda on Friday added: “We learned to bake bread in this pandemic, we can learn to make our own adobo con pimienta. Bye.”
Marion Nestle, emeritus professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University and creator of the blog Food Politics, said Goya’s customers had “plenty of justification” for boycotting.
“Unanue’s support of a president who loses no opportunity to diminish the humanity of Goya Foods’ core Latino customers is at best tone deaf, and at worst an explicit endorsement of the president’s discriminatory attitudes and policies,” she said in a statement.
Yvette Marquez-Sharpnack, a Mexican cookbook author and food blogger, said it was both “surprising” and “sad” to hear Mr. Unanue’s comments. In 2013 she told The Washington Post that she often recommended Goya products with her recipes because they were so widely available.
“The only way I think that Goya will come back after this boycott is to give back to the community in a big way, to get the respect from the Latino population, whether it’s donating to food banks or specifically to the Latino community,” Ms. Marquez-Sharpnack said.
Goya Foods on Friday issued a news release about the company’s donation, but did not address the controversy around Mr. Unanue’s comments.
In an appearance on Fox News on Friday, Mr. Unanue defended his comments.
“It’s suppression of speech,” he said, noting that in 2012 he was called to work with the first lady, Michelle Obama, on a different initiative that focused on helping families make healthy meal choices.
“So you’re allowed to talk good or to praise one president, but you’re not allowed, when I was called to be part of this commission to aid in economic and education prosperity and you make positive comment, all of the sudden that’s not acceptable,” Mr. Unanue said.
He added, “So I’m not apologizing for saying — and especially when you’re called by the president of the United States, you’re going to say, ‘No, I’m sorry, I’m busy. No thank you.’ I didn’t say that to the Obamas, and I didn’t say that to President Trump.”
While there were calls to back away from Goya products, a counter hashtag, #BuyGoya, also began spreading on Twitter and was widely shared among conservatives and Trump supporters.
Goya Foods was founded in 1936 by Mr. Unanue’s Spanish grandparents, Don Prudencio Unanue and his wife, Carolina. The company started as a storefront business in Lower Manhattan and sold authentic Spanish products, including olives, olive oil and sardines, to local Hispanic families. Business steadily grew over the following decades, and Goya Foods is now the largest Hispanic-owned food company in the United States, with over 4,000 employees worldwide. Mr. Unanue, who according to an NBC profile started working in the family business at age 10, began overseeing the company in 2004.