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  • Writer's pictureDavid Baker

[GASP!] Texas Pete hot sauce is made in North Carolina?!?

Do you remember the series of television commercials for Pace Picante Sauce from a few years ago? The premise involved a group of cowboys sitting around a campfire, presumably out working cattle, who are served their trail grub by the camp cook who also hands them a bottle of picante sauce. But, to everyone’s horror, it isn’t Pace Picante Sauce.

Even worse, one of the cowpokes reads the ingredients label and announces, “It’s made in New York City.”

The others join in with a chorus of the same question, “New York City?!?”

Then, in a closeup, one of the grizzled trail veterans, grumbles, “Get a rope.”

In a case of real-life imitating art (if you can call television commercials art), a California consumer has filed a class action lawsuit against Texas Pete hot sauce because he learned to his own horror that the product isn't actually made in Texas. It’s actually made in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. And according to the lawsuit, this constitutes false advertising.

When Philip White purchased a bottle of Texas Pete at a Ralph’s supermarket in September 2021, he claims to have believed that it was made in Texas and that is one of the main reasons he bought. Indeed, if the claims in the Los Angeles federal court complaint are to be believed, White wouldn’t have bought the Louisiana-style hot sauce, or would not have paid as much for it if he knew its origin. (Interestingly, Wilson doesn’t seem to have a gripe with its additional claim of being Louisiana-style whether made in Texas or North Carolina.)

In the complaint, Wilson alleges that the makers of Texas Pete, T.W. Garner Food Co., knowingly "capitalized on consumers" desire to partake in the culture and authentic cuisine of one of the most prideful states in America." Wilson does concede that the product’s back label clearly states that it is manufactured in North Caroline. However, the complaint asserts claims that a consumer would likely not notice. Further, the product’s label uses “distinctly Texan” imagery, including the “famed white ‘lone’ star from the Texan flag together with a ‘lassoing’ cowboy."

On the other hand, Texas Pete's website admits that the hot sauce is made in North Carolina, but the company’s founder, Sam Garner, landed on Texas Pete because of the state’s “reputation for spicy cuisine” and as a nod to his son’s nickname. And, "[t]he current factory, built in 1942 and added onto too many times to count, sits on the original Garner family home site in northwest Winston-Salem. And the legendary Texas Pete, proud of his cowboy heritage but also a proud North Carolinian, continues to thrive."

Why It Matters. Undoubtedly, Wilson and his attorneys simply are trying to cash in on what they see as an opportunity. It is hard to imagine anything else is motivating them, even a “concern” that other consumers might be inclined to purchase Texas Pete’s because the branding includes Texas imagery and verbiage.

In the complaint, Wilson contends that 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." Further, the complaint argues that the Texas branding ultimately hurts smaller companies in Texas and “lawful competitors” that are trying to capitalize on the authenticity of their Texas hot sauce.

To many, this undoubtedly seems like an awfully long-winded way of saying, “Just give us a pile of cash to go away.” Should this incline anyone to “get a rope” here is a friendly reminder that IP Update does not condone violence even when it involves matters of brand enforcement.

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