HARLEM — The company that makes Coors Light announced Thursday that it will stop producing and distributing a can with a design that critics called disrespectful because it featured an image they said looked like the Puerto Rican flag.
After defending the design on its cans of beer produced in conjunction with the June 9 Puerto Rican Day Parade, MillerCoors apologized to Boricuas For a Positive Image, the East Harlem group that first began criticizing the cans, in a letter.
"We are no longer producing the packages that you cite in your communications, and effective [Friday] morning we will cease distribution as well," wrote Nehl Horton, chief public affairs and communication officer for MillerCoors.
MillerCoors made the announcement hours before a planned protest in front of a beer distributor in the Bronx, but the protest went on as planned. Roughly 75 protesters waving Puerto Rican flags gathered outside of Manhattan Beer Distributors on E. 149th Street in the Bronx and said the announcement by MillerCoors didn't go far enough.
"This is just the beginning. We want a full, complete apology from Coors and we want all of those beer cans pulled off the shelf," said Ramon Jimenez, an attorney for Boricuas For A Positive Image.
East Harlem Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito agreed.
"We want the removal of existing stock and inventory," said Mark-Viverito. "The Puerto Rican Day Parade needs to be the people's parade."
Karina Diehl, a MillerCoors spokeswoman, said the company made the decision to pull the can on its own. She would not disclose how many cans the company made for the campaign, but said they had been circulating in New York City since mid-April. The company has no plans to pull existing cans from the shelf.
That's one of the reasons Vincent Torres, organizer with Boricuas For A Positive Image, called the announcement a "small win."
"Words in the air and words on paper do not mean beer cans off the shelf," said Torres. "Their announcement was a ploy to deflate this protest."
Jimenez said opponents of the can will meet with MillerCoors executives later this evening.
Earlier this week, MillerCoors, which said in the letter that the design was approved by the leadership of the National Puerto Rican Day Parade, Inc., said the design was not the Puerto Rican flag.
The National Puerto Rican Day Parade, Inc. said in an an earlier statement that community leaders should "clear this misunderstanding, and stop misguidedly telling the public that the Puerto Rican flag has been posted on beer cans, something that the National Puerto Rican Day Parade, Inc. would never authorize."
Mark-Viverito called the comments from the parade committee the "height of arrogance and irresponsibility." She, along with a group of four other New York City politicians, called on the parade's organizing body to adopt rules around marketing sponsorships.
On Thursday, she called for the resignation of the parade's board of directors.
"The past three years they've been making mistake, after mistake, after mistake," said Mark-Viverito. "The leaders of the board of the National Puerto Rican Day Parade need to resign."
In a statement, the National Puerto Rican Day Parade, Inc., said they were re-examining guidelines governing the use of their logo and sponsorship packages.
"In re-creating the Parade's logo for a new promotion in 2013, it was never MillerCoors' intention to disrespect the Puerto Rican community, and/or any of its symbols. The company's intention was to celebrate pride and heritage with a limited-time, festive packaging intended for adults, in the likelihood of other commemorative cans done in the past in celebration of Latino heritage, arts, culture, and sports," said Madelyn Lugo, president of the board of the National Puerto Rican Day Parade, Inc.
The image that sparked the controversy appears wrapped around the bottom of 20-ounce Coors Light cans. There are a series of wavy stripes colored blue, red, and white. An apple is colored in the red and blue colors of the Puerto Rican flag with a single star. A border around the apple image says National Puerto Rican Parade, Inc.
"We developed this can in celebration of Puerto Rican heritage and culture," Diehl said. "We obviously never intended to offend anyone."
Torres said the design is reminiscent of and was meant to invoke the Puerto Rican flag. And the National Institute for Latino Policy said the can was especially outrageous given that the theme of this year's parade was "Salud — Celebrating Your Health" and that Puerto Ricans deal with high rates of alcoholism compared to other Latino ethnic groups.
This isn't the first time MillerCoors has run into trouble with Latino advocacy groups around promotional advertising related to the Puerto Rican Day Parade.
Coors ads featuring the phrase "Emborícuate," or "Become Puerto Rican" in Spanish, beneath three beers were removed in 2011 after an outcry from Latino advocacy groups. The word was taken by many to be a play on "Emborráchate," or to get drunk.
"They have the responsibility to put our culture on high," Mark-Viverito said of the parade's board.