WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (WGHP) — A grocery shopper in California has filed a class-action lawsuit against the T.W. Garner Food Co., alleging false advertising over their Texas Pete brand of hot sauce.
His issue? Texas Pete hot sauce is not made in Texas, but rather North Carolina.
Philip White, of Los Angeles, claims he was under the impression that Texas Pete hot sauce was produced in Texas when he purchased a $3 bottle at a Ralph’s supermarket in September 2021, according to the complaint.
“White relied upon the language and images displayed on the front label of the product, and at the time of purchase understood the product to be a Texas product,” the complaint said.
The label includes “the famed white ‘lone’ star from the Texan flag together with a ‘lassoing’ cowboy,” which are images White assumed to be distinctly Texan, the lawsuit stated.
White said he was later surprised to learn that Texas Pete is not a product of Texas, but manufactured in Winston-Salem, North Carolina — a fact T.W. Garner Food Co. readily admits on its website.
“There is surprisingly nothing Texas about them,” the lawsuit says of the brand. The complaint further alleges that Texas Pete’s ingredients also come from “sources outside of Texas.”
Why is Texas Pete called Texas Pete?
It’s an obvious question, and the brand even acknowledges that it may be confusing to some.
The brand’s website highlights a Dec. 5, 2013 article from the Triad Business Journal, pulling out the following sentence: “With a name like Texas Pete, one would think the famed hot sauce is manufactured somewhere in the Lone Star State.”
But Texas Pete addresses this question upfront and does not shy away from its Carolina roots.
“‘So how is it that a tasty red pepper sauce made in North Carolina happens to be named ‘Texas Pete’ anyway?'” the site asks, preemptively, on its history page.
According to Texas Pete, “legend has it” that the company’s founder, Sam Garner, and his sons Thad, Ralph and Harold, were trying to come up with a name for their hot sauce when they turned to their marketing advisor. The advisor recommended “‘Mexican Joe’ to connote the piquant flavor of the cuisine they associated with the region.
Garner rejected this idea in favor of “an American name,” and instead suggested Texas, “which also had a reputation for spicy cuisine,” the website states. Garner tacked on “Pete” as a nod to his son Harold’s nickname.
But White, in his complaint, points to the brand’s own history as evidence of alleged false advertising.
“In revealing the thought process behind its brand name, [T.W. Garner Food Co.] admits that Texas’s reputation was one they were trying to mimic and capitalize on when creating their brand,” the complaint said.
The complaint accuses Texas Pete of concocting a “false marketing and labeling scheme specifically because it knows the state of Texas enjoys a certain mysticism and appeal in the consumer marketplace and is known for its quality cuisine, spicy food and hot sauce in particular.”
Had he known Texas Pete wasn’t made in Texas, White says he wouldn’t have bought the hot sauce, or would not have paid as much for it. He believes he’s not the only one.
“By representing that its Texas Pete brand hot sauce products are Texas products, when they are not, [T.W. Garner Food Co.] has cheated its way to a market-leading position in the $3 billion hot-sauce industry at the expense of law-abiding competitors and consumers nationwide who desire authentic Texas hot sauce and reasonably, but incorrectly, believe that is what they are getting when they purchase Texas Pete,” the complaint says.
The complaint argues that the Texas branding ultimately hurts smaller companies in Texas that are trying to capitalize on the authenticity of their Texas hot sauce.
White’s complaint, filed on behalf of all people in the U.S. who have purchased Texas Pete, asks the court to force Texas Pete to change its name and branding and to pay up.
T.W. Garner Food Co. has until Nov. 10 to respond to the complaint.