Maker of chocolate spread ends endorsement deal with Bryant

Updated: August 4, 2003, 2:57 PM ET

TRENTON, N.J. -- The maker of Nutella chocolate spread said Monday it is phasing out endorsements from Kobe Bryant in part because of the sexual assault charge against the NBA superstar.

Ferrero, an Italian company with U.S. headquarters in Somerset, N.J., said its contract with the Los Angeles Lakers guard expires in January.

"Marketing plans established earlier this year did not contemplate a contract renewal," the company said in a statement. "In keeping with this decision, and considering the recent developments, Kobe's image on Nutella labels and promotional material is being phased out."

A call to Bryant's agent, Arn Tellem, was not immediately returned.

Bryant, 24, is charged with sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman on June 30 at a mountain resort in Edwards, Colo. Bryant has said the two had consensual sex. His initial court appearance is Wednesday.

Until this summer, Bryant was best known as a five-time All Star with one of the most marketable images in professional sports. He has a multimillion-dollar sneaker deal with Nike and contracts with Sprite, McDonald's and Spalding.

Even before he was charged, marketing experts predicted the assault case could cost him more than $100 million in potential earnings.

Nike has said its deal with Bryant remains in place. Coca-Cola Co. spokesman Scott Williamson said Monday that Bryant has been under contract with Sprite since 1997 and remains under contract until 2005.

Bryant appeared in Sprite commercials through the first week of July, but there are no plans to use him in ads through the end of the year, Williamson said. He said the plan was developed before the sexual assault allegation.

Ferrero manufactures Nutella, a hazelnut-and-chocolate spread popular in Europe. Bryant spent part of his childhood living in Italy.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index