Sears, Penney sever ties with Paula Deen

NEW YORK — The exodus continues.

Sears Holdings Corp and J.C. Penney Co. said Friday that they’re cutting ties with Paula Deen, adding to the list of companies severing their relationship following revelations that the Southern celebrity chef used racial slurs in the past.

QVC took a more gentle approach on Friday and announced that it was “taking a pause” from Deen. The home shopping network said that Deen won’t be appearing on any upcoming broadcasts and it will phase out her product assortment on its online sales channels over the next few months.

“We all think it’s important, at this moment, for Paula, to concentrate on responding to the allegations against her and her path forward,” said Mike George, QVC’s president and CEO in a letter posted on the company’s website.

But QVC left the door open for Deen to return. “Some of you wonder whether this is a ‘forever’ decision — whether we are simply ending our association with Paula. We don’t think that’s how relationships work. People deserve second chances.”

Sears said it will phase out all products tied to the brand after “careful consideration of all available information.”

“We will continue to evaluate the situation,” said Amy Diamond, a spokeswoman at the parent company of Sears and Kmart stores.

Both Sears and Kmart sold Paula Deen products.

In an email statement to The Associated Press, Penney just said it decided to discontinue selling Deen-branded products.

The developments are the latest blows to Paula Deen Enterprises.

Earlier this week, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Target Corp. and Home Depot all announced that they plan to stop selling cookware and other items with Deen’s brand.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, 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 2 diabetes

On Monday, pork producer Smithfield Foods dropped her as a spokeswoman.

Caesars Entertainment also announced that Paula 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.

Last week, the Food Network said that it would not renew her contract.

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, Rachael 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 III, president of retail consultancy Strategic Resource Group.

But Flickinger says that the controversy has cost her 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.

Still, book-buyers are so far standing by Deen. As of Friday morning, “Paula Deen’s New Testament: 250 Recipes, All Lightened Up,” remained No. 1 on Amazon.com. The book is scheduled for October. Another Deen book, “Paula Deen’s Southern Cooking Bible,” is No. 2. Several other Deen books were out of stock.

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Follow Anne D’Innocenzio on Twitter: http://twitter.com/ADInnocenzio

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