WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (WGHP) — A lawsuit filed against Garner Foods over its North Carolina-made “Texas Pete” hot sauce seems to have inadvertently helped the brand.

Texas Pete facility in Winston-Salem, North Carolina in 2017. (WGHP)
Texas Pete facility in Winston-Salem, North Carolina in 2017. (WGHP)

On Sept. 12, Philip White, of Los Angeles, filed a class action lawsuit against T.W. Garner Food Co., which is based in Winston-Salem, for alleged false advertising of Texas Pete.

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.”

The story first broke in North Carolina with North Carolina Rabbit Hole on Oct. 6 and FOX8 WGHP on Oct. 7. Local and national news outlets alike followed en masse in the days that followed.

By Oct. 10, demand for Texas Pete hot sauce shot up by 71% compared to the overall 2022 average, according to Pattern, an e-commerce accelerator.

Texas Pete facility in Winston-Salem, North Carolina in 2017. (WGHP)
Inside the Texas Pete facility in Winston-Salem, North Carolina in 2017. (WGHP)

Compared to the average demand the previous week, demand was up 76%.

As one of the top sellers on Amazon, Pattern is able to see how many people are searching for a specific term—in this case, Texas Pete hot sauce—on Amazon on a given day of the year. The company says it compares that data to data from other third-party sources to make sure it’s accurate.

This all started when, according to the complaint, Philip White bought a $3 bottle of Texas Pete at a Ralph’s in Los Angeles back in September 2021.

The complaint says White either wouldn’t have bought the hot sauce or would have paid less if he knew it wasn’t from Texas. He alleges that Texas Pete is taking business away from smaller companies selling authentic Texas hot sauce, and he blames Texas Pete’s marketing.

Nowhere on the Texas Pete bottle or website does Garner Foods claim that the product is made in Texas. The product’s online history leads by noting that it is “made in North Carolina,” and the label includes the T.W. Garner Food Co.’s Winston-Salem address.

Texas Pete Wing Sauce (Courtesy of Texas Pete/https://texaspete.com/cook-your-way-through-may-and-sauce-like-you-mean-it-with-these-flavor-hacks/)
Texas Pete Wing Sauce (Courtesy of Texas Pete/https://texaspete.com/cook-your-way-through-may-and-sauce-like-you-mean-it-with-these-flavor-hacks/)

The main imagery on the label, however, is the Texas Pete cowboy, complete with a lasso and one white star, images White’s complaint says are distinctly Texan.

The complaint says there is nothing Texan about Texas Pete. Texas Pete is a Louisiana-style hot sauce—though Texas-style does not exist—and, while the complaint doesn’t outline where Texas Pete gets its ingredients, it says that the ingredients come from “sources outside of Texas.”

According to the brand’s own history, the name Texas Pete was chosen to evoke Texas’s “reputation for spicy cuisine.”

According to the hot sauce brand’s site, Sam Garner and his sons, Thad, Ralph and Harold, were trying to come up with a name for their hot sauce. Their marketing advisor pitched “‘Mexican Joe’ to connote the piquant flavor reminiscent of the favorite food of our neighbors to the south.” Sam Garner replied, “‘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,” according to the brand’s history. “Then he glanced at son Harold whose nickname was ‘Pete’ and the Texas Pete cowboy was born.”

The complaint expands on this idea and 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’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.