[Image of: RetailWire Logo and Tagline (for print)]

Paula Deen: Diabetes Drug Spokesperson?

January 23, 2012

A foodie uproar erupted after Paula Deen, the Food Network star known for her fat-laden recipes, disclosed that she had diabetes while also announcing that she had signed on as a spokesperson for a diabetes medication.

Most of the blogosphere screeched at the hypocrisy of Ms. Deen peddling Victoza, a noninsulin injectable medication made by Novo Nordisk, after years of promoting high-fat, high-sugar recipes on her TV shows and through her best-selling cook books.

But the noise level and hysteria was certainly amplified since Ms. Deen admitted she found out she had Type 2 diabetes three years ago — and yet continued to glorify recipes such as Twinkie Pie, Gooey Butter Cake and Deep Fried Cheescake.

"Thinking of getting into the leg-breaking business, so I can profitably sell crutches later," tweeted celebrity chef and Travel Channel host Anthony Bourdain, a long- time critic of Ms. Deen who previously lambasted her for pushing unhealthy foods to an "already obese nation."

Writing for the Los Angeles Times, Karen Stabiner, whose father endured a 21-year battle with diabetes, said that while Ms. Deen has long defended her recipes as edible "in moderation," such cautions ring pale given the serious of the disease and its ties to obesity. She wrote, "What she represents matters: another attempt to market immortality to a culture that's particularly in love with misbehaving, followed by an easy fix."

Seemingly in response to the backlash, Ms. Deen pledged to donate an undisclosed portion of her endorsement money to the American Diabetes Association. Along with her sons who are also celebrity chefs, she will participate in select diabetes health expos the ADA hosts around the country.

She also plans to create lighter alternatives for her recipes and is in discussions with the Food Network to incorporate those recipes into her show. Still, a spokeswoman for Ms. Deen told The Wall Street Journal that she will also "stay true to her Grandmama Paul's Southern cooking, which is part of her heritage."

In a statement, the ADA declared its support of the endorsement deal.

"People may benefit from seeing how others successfully manage Type 2 diabetes," the ADA said.

Ms. Deen told The Associated Press, "I've always said, 'Practice moderation, y'all.' I'll probably say that a little louder now."

Discussion Questions:

Discussion Question: What do you think of Paula Deen becoming a spokesperson for a diabetes medicine? Can any lessons be derived from the situation for food brands?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

What's the likelihood that Paula Deen will become a successful ambassador for diabetes prevention?


I'm thinking it just doesn't get any sleazier than this -- and I'm a diabetic. She can pledge all the money she wants to the foundation, but here's a spokesperson who has given up all the credibility she could have by waiting until she had a sponsorship deal before coming out.

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Dr. Stephen Needel, Managing Partner, Advanced Simulations

This is a television entertainer making a business decision. She's been handed lemons and people are mad at her for making lemonade out of them.

David Livingston, Principal, DJL Research

I'm not a foodie, but I'm a diabetic, and it stinks. I'd not even heard of Paula Deen until this big flap. It appalls me, sort of like someone with emphysema or lung cancer pitching cigarettes. It would be far better of her to work on recipes for diabetics. Lord knows there's a market for it now.

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Warren Thayer, Editorial Director & Co-Founder, Frozen & Refrigerated Buyer

Paula Deen becoming a spokesman for a diabetes medicine projects that she will go into politics after her last hush puppy has been fried.

If there is any lesson from the current Paula Deen matter for food brands, that lesson will undoubtedly be soon forgotten.

Gene Hoffman, President/CEO, Corporate Strategies International

I have no problem with Paula Deen becoming a spokesperson for a diabetes medicine. I do think that the timing is bad given that this could have been planned out better. She could have come forward with the news of her condition, preached moderation and give lighter versions of her recipes (when possible) and then after a period of time endorsed a medication. Her PR people did not think this through!

Given the current state of affairs I am better with her moving forward as she plans to hopefully raise awareness.

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
J. Peter Deeb, Managing Partner, Deeb MacDonald & Associates, L.L.C.

Her timing and PR program are a big part of this uproar. Interestingly, one of her sons is starting a new show on The Food Network on which he will revamp her recipes with half the fat. He should have been the one to do the endorsement, and donate the funds on behalf of the family. He could do the cookbook for diabetics with her. That makes more sense. They just didn't think it through all the way. I don't think she's a bad person and she certainly has awareness power if she does the right thing in an authentic manner.

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Anne Howe, Principal, Anne Howe Associates

A very sad commentary on how celebrities can sell their soul for the almighty buck. Of course, who would ever watch Paula Deen cook and think anything about the ingredients she used was healthy for you? It doesn't take a PhD in nutrition to know that her cookbooks weren't exactly a prescription for a well balanced meal. As time passes, I trust Paula will lose weight, get a handle on her diabetes and espouse a diet of good tasting food without the butter, sugar, empty carbs and natural fruit/veggies without the sauce. A skeptical audience will tune her out. An adoring public will remain attracted to her smile and big personality.

David Slavick, Director, Loyalty & Retention, FTD.com

Definitely this was a business decision and that is what is upsetting to the public. Presenting recipes high in fat and sugar was never in the best interest of her audience even if she said they should be used in moderation. Waiting three years before making her condition public, while continuing to present recipes that were harmful for people with diabetes shows a lack of concern for her audience. Only making her condition public when it was accompanies by an announcement of endorsing a drug gives the appearance of putting her business before the interests of her public. Her down home, friendly chatter now appears to be an act used for business purposes. She did not think through the ramifications of announcing this information. Earning trust is difficult; losing it can happen in a flash.

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D., President, Global Collaborations, Inc.

I truly don't intend to be mean, but she is getting her just desserts.

Let's face reality; a person can't keep eating all that fat and sugar and be healthy. Bodies just don't work that way. I am sorry she has diabetes; I hope she can help her followers eat healthier now.

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Liz Crawford, SVP, Strategy & Insights, Head of ShopLab, Match Drive

Let's take a positive outlook for this news. Nothing is more zealous than a reformed sinner. So perhaps St. Paula will now preach as an effective health-oriented message relative to cuisine as she did for her tasty but apparently dangerous recipes.

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Roy White, Editor-at-large, RetailWire

I find this entire situation a little hard to wrap my head around. Business decision by Paula Deen or not, it's poor judgement by whatever agency/brand team agreed that she would make a good representative for diabetes medication. Period. Generally, when spokespeople are chosen to represent a brand, the "measure of believability" among consumers is one of the highest weighted factors. It appears to me, in this instance, that factor wasn't given consideration.

Hayes Minor, Director, Strategic Planning, MARS Advertising

I frankly would have been more impressed if Paula Deen had (a) announced her condition when it was first diagnosed AND (b) become a spokesperson for diabetes as opposed to a pitch person for Victoza. That said, Anthony Bourdain who, like Deen, has garnered plenty of ink and airtime as a result of their dietary feud is wrong. When it comes to Paula's cooking it clearly is a matter of caveat emptor.

Anyone watching Deen -- who I once saw deep fry chocolate cake -- ought to know better than to eat deep fat fried foods eight meals a day or whatever it is she suggests. By the same token I've seen Bourdain advocate drinking oneself senseless and dining on street food in emerging nations -- food he conceded would probably trigger a bout of near fatal dysentery.

Deen has always been over the top in her championing of butter, pork fat (a la Emeril), salt, sugar, oil and all the other things that cause taste buds to explode in gastronomical orgasmic delight. That's her schtick. If anybody confuses it with great nutrition the aggregate IQ of the planet will probably rise right after their last cholesterol clogged artery seizes. But exploiting a disease for personal gain -- especially in a country where Type II Diabetes is rising faster than Paula's biscuits -- is inexcusable. And, as for the schtick -- she could have launched a whole new career promoting healthier Southern cuisine.

I loved my Georgia-born grandmother who lovingly pan fried turnips in bacon fat, and truth be told, I even liked those turnips. But, I don't eat or cook like that myself. Her food was killer -- in more ways than one. Cooks have learned a lot since my grandmother's day and you'd think that, especially given her condition, Paula Deen should know better. After all -- lose enough credibility and those lucrative endorsement deals stop coming your way!

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Ryan Mathews, Founder, ceo, Black Monk Consulting

File this under "buyer beware." If you are using recipes from a fat chef...Hellooooo! High caloric and high sugar food is about the 'now'. Profits are on the same schedule. All this may seem hypocritical, but very consistent in show business and marketing.


It's no news that too many people eat too much food and think the consequences can be most simply dealt with through medication. Objections to urging food companies to be more responsible vs people taking "personal responsibility" have made the situation even worse. Yet again, I hear myself asking, why must it be either or?

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Bernice Hurst, Owner, Fine Food Network

Although the latest American health craze seems to be all over the 5000+ marketing messages we each receive every day, the truth is that the vast majority of Americans love fatty foods and still eat them in excess. This story only emphasizes that fact.

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Ralph Jacobson, Global Retail Industry Analytics Marketing Executive, IBM

And the difference between Paula Deen and Martha Stewart is?


I read the comments preceding mine and frankly agree with most of them. I find it a bit outrageous that Ms. Deen waited three years continuing to promote her fat laden recipes, books, restaurant, etc. while waiting for the "deal" to kick in. How can we continue to watch her and believe what she is espousing?

I had to think about Michael Vick and the dog fiasco. He paid a dear price for what many believed to be his ignorance of the severity of his crime based on his upbringing. Ms. Deen had to know better.

I don't agree with the comparison to Martha Stewart. How many of us would have done the same thing given the situation? She was used as a scapegoat.

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Ed Rosenbaum, CEO, The Customer Service Rainmaker, Rainmaker Solutions

Paula Deen has had a very casual and irresponsible "moderation" approach to her illness and her accepting a spokesperson role is simply more of the same.

I'm appalled at Novo Nordisk for offering her the role. There is no medicine in the market that can treat illness caused by a "moderate" bad diet, but that will be the message Novo Nordisk will be promoting.

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Carlos Arámbula, Strategist, One Ninth & Co-founder of MarcasUSA, One Ninth, MarcasUSA LLC

The answer to Scanner's question -- and the response to David's remark -- is that when handed lemons, Martha Stewart will make lemonade -- cool, frosty and oh so good! -- but Ms. Deen will make a deep fried lemon meringue pie.

I won't comment on the sleaze or hypocrisy factors here, but what I see as the problem with her "in moderation" message is that it isn't what her confederates -- i.e. food companies -- want. You can't grow sales if people are consuming less of your product.


I am a foodie and love watching the Food Network and cooking channel. No question I have seen more than one episode of Paula Deen and in fact, I have made a few of her dishes which were very good.

If you learn more about Paula Deen and what she did to become the success she is today, you may look a little differently at the story. She started by making sandwiches and having her sons sell them door to door at office buildings. Slowly she grew to her first restaurant and then a star on the Food Network. It is hard to criticize her for providing for her family.

Her BIG mistake was not announcing the news of her diabetes when she found out 2 years ago. She had an amazing opportunity to take an unfortunate personal situation and turn it into a platform to teach others. My guess is she received really poor council on the topic and is in the situation she is because of it.

I certainly do not know Paula personally, but wish her the best. My hope is she now takes her tough situation and aggressively uses her star power and wealth to teach and help others.

John Boccuzzi, Jr., Managing Partner, Boccuzzi, LLC

The ham-handed and reckless handling of Ms. Deen's announcements are putting a spotlight on the darker realities of endorsements. A little spacing, a touch of finesse, and she would be a hero. Don't shoot the messenger.

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Carol Spieckerman, President, Spieckerman Retail

This is brilliant for Novo Nordisk. Considering the warnings with this drug, plus the suggestion that it should be used with a regimen of diet and exercise, the Paula Deen endorsement simplifies the whole message. It screams, loud and clear, "Take this pill and you can eat whatever you want, no matter how bad for you."

Novo Nordisk shows a clear understanding of consumer behavior and great marketing. Just consider all the free publicity they have received so far. While we are all criticizing the hypocrisy of all this, those with diabetes due to diet are running to their physicians to get a prescription for Victoza so they can eat Paula's recipes.

And, I am not being sarcastic and am not kidding. This is brilliant.

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Gene Detroyer, Professor, Independent

Paula Deen has the right to do anything she wants. After all, it is a free country, and if she wanted to keep it a secret, that is her own business. Her recipe's are great, and as a diabetic myself for 4 years, I have chosen to embrace the challenge to educate others as a supermarket owner and caterer. Paula can be a great advocate for healthier eating just by hosting a show on preparing foods in a diabetic fashion. If any of you know her, have her give me a call and I'll be glad to help out. Diabetes is a huge problem, but Paula does not deserve other people's wrath for her personal decisions. I am going to do a blog on this in the near future.

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
Tony Orlando, Owner, Tony O's Supermarket & Catering

I'm hoping that from this situation we can learn something that applies in a much broader way: To wit, a person being big enough and having enough integrity to say "I've learned that I was wrong and have changed my practices and opinions as a result." I'm still waiting for our leading politicians who are famous for flip-flopping to make this sort of statement. How many people do you know who are capable of this kind of mea culpa? If you know some, I'm betting they're high on your list of "most respected people."

M. Jericho Banks PhD, President, CEO, Forensic Marketing LLC

I am sure Paula Deen never thought she would get diabetes. But when she did, she should have disavowed her cooking style and changed her recipes. Had she done so three years ago when she was diagnosed, she would have some credibility as a spokesperson today. As it stands, she is a sad case looking to cling to her celebrity and money in a very sleazy way.

[Image of: View Braintrust Panelist button]
John Karolefski, Editor in Chief, CPGmatters.com

Shame on Novo Nordisk. I hate to be unkind, but have to say that for years I have quietly thinking that I don't want any of whatever Paula Deen is eating.


Search RetailWire
Follow Us...
[Image of:  Twitter Icon] [Image of:  Facebook Icon] [Image of:  LinkedIn Icon] [Image of:  RSS Icon]

Getting Started video!

View this quick tutorial and learn all the essentials...

RetailWire Newsletters