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Target cuts ties with Paul Deen; drugmaker distances

FILE - This Jan. 17, 2012 file photo shows celebrity chef Paula Deen posing for a portrait in New York.  It was revealed that Deen admitted during questioning in a lawsuit that she had slurred blacks in the past.  It's the second time the queen of comfort food's mouth has gotten her into big trouble. She revealed in 2012 that for three years she hid her Type 2 diabetes while continuing to cook the calorie-laden food that's bad for people like her. (AP Photo/Carlo Allegri, File)

FILE - This Jan. 17, 2012 file photo shows celebrity chef Paula Deen posing for a portrait in New York. It was revealed that Deen admitted during questioning in a lawsuit that she had slurred blacks in the past. It's the second time the queen of comfort food's mouth has gotten her into big trouble. She revealed in 2012 that for three years she hid her Type 2 diabetes while continuing to cook the calorie-laden food that's bad for people like her. (AP Photo/Carlo Allegri, File)

Paula Deen’s multimillion-dollar merchandise and media empire continues to unravel following revelations that she used racial slurs in the past.

Target Corp., Home Depot Inc. and diabetes drug maker Novo Nordisk yesterday became the latest companies to distance themselves from the Southern celebrity chef.

Home Depot, which sold Deen-branded cookware and kitchen products only online, said it pulled the merchandise off its website Wednesday. And Target said that it will phase out its Deen-branded cookware and other items in stores and on its website.

“Once the merchandise is sold out, we will not be replenishing inventory,” said Molly Snyder, a Target
spokeswoman.

Meanwhile, Novo Nordisk said it and Deen have “mutually agreed to suspend our patient education activities for now.” Deen, who specializes in Southern comfort food, had been promoting the company’s drug Victoza since last year when she announced she had Type 1 diabetes.

These are the latest blows dealt to Deen since comments she made in a court deposition became public. Last week, the Food Network said that it would not renew her contract. On Monday, pork producer Smithfield Foods dropped her as a spokeswoman. Then, on Wednesday, Walmart, the world’s biggest retailer, said it, too, was cutting ties with Deen following a tearful Today show interview in which she said she’s not a racist.

On the same day, Caesars Entertainment announced that Deen’s name is being stripped from four buffet restaurants owned by the company. Caesars said that its decision to rebrand its restaurants in Joliet, Ill.; Tunica, Miss.; Cherokee, N.C.; and Elizabeth, Ind., was a mutual one with Deen.

The stakes are high for Deen, who Forbes magazine ranked as the fourth-highest-earning celebrity chef last year, bringing in $17 million. She’s behind Gordon Ramsay, Rachel Ray and Wolfgang Puck, according to Forbes.

Deen’s empire, which spans from TV shows to furniture and cookware, generates total annual revenue of nearly $100 million, estimates Burt Flickinger, president of retail consultancy Strategic Resource Group.

But Flickinger said that the controversy has cost her as much as half of that business. He also estimates that she could lose up to 80 percent by next year as suppliers extricate themselves from their agreements.

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