WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (WGHP) — Did you know Texas Pete hot sauce is made in North Carolina?
Well, a Los Angeles man says he didn’t, and now he has filed a class action lawsuit against Winston-Salem-based T.W. Garner Food Co. for alleged false advertising.
Garner Foods acknowledged the suit in a statement to FOX8: “We are aware of the current lawsuit that has been filed against our company regarding the Texas Pete® brand name. We are currently investigating these assertions with our legal counsel to find the clearest and most effective way to respond.”
Where this all started
According to the complaint, Philip White was at a Ralph’s in Los Angeles when he bought a $3 bottle of Texas Pete back in September 2021.
“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,” images White’s complaint says are distinctly Texan.
To his shock, he later discovered that Texas Pete is not actually a product of Texas.
“There is surprisingly nothing Texas about them,” the complaint said.
From the ingredients to the style, he might have an argument.
Texas Pete is what’s considered a standard Louisiana-style hot sauce. Lousiana-style hot sauces are defined by their ingredients, namely vinegar, chiles and salt, which are pureed and fermented. Tabasco and Frank’s Red Hot are both Lousiana-style hot sauces.
There’s no such thing as a Texas-style hot sauce, the complaint says. What makes a Texas hot sauce is ingredients from the Lone Star State with a uniquely Texan flavor profile. While the complaint doesn’t outline where Texas Pete gets its ingredients, it says that the ingredients 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 hot sauce brand’s website highlights a Dec. 5, 2013 article from the Triad Business Journal, pulling out the 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 says on its history page.
The brand’s answer cites “legend.” According to Texas Pete, 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 reminiscent of the favorite food of our neighbors to the south.
“‘Nope!’ said the patriarch of the Garner family. ‘It’s got to have an American name!’ Sam suggested they move across the border to Texas, which also had a reputation for spicy cuisine. Then he glanced at son Harold whose, nickname was ‘Pete’ and the Texas Pete cowboy was born.”
Why would a brand pretend to be from Texas?
T.W. Garner Food Co.’s history of Texas Pete explicitly says that idea was meant to evoke Texas’s reputation.
“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.”
White himself says, had he known Texas Pete wasn’t made in Texas, he wouldn’t have bought the hot sauce or would have at least paid less for it. And 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.