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, alleging false advertising by Garner over its Texas Pete, which is not made in Texas.
Garner Foods acknowledged the suit in a statement: “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 on Oct. 6, and national news outlets followed soon after.
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 utility that used data from Amazon sales of Texas Pete to come to its findings. Compared to the average demand the previous week, demand was up 76%, Pattern found.
This bizarre chain of events was put into motion back in Sept. 2021, when White bought a $3 bottle of Texas Pete at a Ralph’s supermarket in Los Angeles.
White’s complaint claims he 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.
But 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.
The main imagery on the label, however, features the words “Texas Pete” underneath a single white star, and artwork depicting a cowboy holding a lasso — images White’s complaint says are distinctly Texan.
White’s complaint says Texas Pete’s ingredients also 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, however, wanted an “American” name for the sauce, and liked the sound of Texas.
“Then he glanced at son Harold whose nickname was ‘Pete’ and the Texas Pete cowboy was born,” the site claims.
The complaint cites this explanation 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.