While out for dinner in Canada, Blake Loates, an Alberta woman dining with her husband ordered a bottle of Vitaminwater, bottle by Energy Brands, a privately owned subsidiary of The Coca-Cola Company.
When Mrs. Loates unscrewed the bottle cap, she noticed the words “YOU RETARD” printed inside the cap.
“We were both pretty shocked,” she said. Mrs. Loates was offended, particularly because her sister Fiona has cerebral palsy and autism and the word “retard” is off limits to the entire family.
Coca-Cola claims the caps are part of a promotion run by the company, displaying a random English word, followed by a random French word. “Retard” in French means late or delayed. The company added that the random words had been reviewed for offensive meanings in French, but not in English.
But Mrs. Loates doesn’t speak French. In fact, most people in Alberta speak English; Alberta inherited its English-only status from the Northwest Territories in 1905, and there’s no official policy in Alberta to provide services in French.
Shannon Denny, director of brand communications for Coca-Cola Refreshment Canada, said the process of matching the English and French words is supposed to be completely random, and the chances of those two words being paired together was slim.
Where the chances are also slim is Mrs. Loates bothering to read the inside of a bottle cap at all. After all, how many times does anyone notice what is printed on the inside of a bottle cap?
According to Metro News in Canada, Fiona’s father, Doug Loates, who lives in Tacoma, Washington, stayed up all night writing letters to Coca-Cola, looking for an explanation for the offensive cap.
You can read a copy of the letter Doug Loates sent to Coca-Cola here. Coca-Cola has been in touch with the Loates family to offer a sincere apology.
“We did not mean to offend at all,” said Denny. “We are certainly very apologetic for this oversight.”
David Thomson, vice-president of still beverages for Coca-Cola, said the remaining caps in their facilities have now been destroyed.
“We have learned from this and it was a mistake,” he said. “At no point in time did we intend on offending anyone by any stretch and we have cancelled and moved on and have dealt with this as soon as possible.”
Thomson said he will be drafting a formal apology letter to the Loates family that will also detail the course of action they will take to correct the situation.
Coca-Cola has since made donations to two major Canadian charities — one to Easter Seals Canada and the other to United Way Canada earmarked for “diversity and inclusion programs across the country,” a message from Coca-Cola said.
“This word should not have been included due to the English connotations and we have taken action,” David Thomson, vice-president of still beverages for Coca-Cola Canada, wrote in a Sept. 19 letter to Doug Loates.
“This includes cancelling the promotion, stopping production of bottles with these caps and destroying any remaining caps within our inventory.”