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Saturday December 3rd

Hot sauce on the hot seat: Texas Pete sued over false advertising claims

<p>Texas Pete hot sauce is pictured on grocery store shelves on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022.</p>
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Texas Pete hot sauce is pictured on grocery store shelves on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022.

Texas Pete hot sauce is under fire.

A man is suing T.W. Garner Food Co., which produces food items like Texas Pete hot sauce, over misleading advertising. 

The class-action lawsuit filed by California resident Phillip White alleges the hot sauce bottle’s branding is deceptive and leads consumers to believe the product is from Texas, when the product is actually made in Winston-Salem, N.C. 

The branding led White to purchase a $3 Texas Pete hot sauce bottle in 2021, according to the suit. The suit also states White would not have bought the hot sauce if he had known it was not authentic Texan hot sauce.

The bottle features a cartoon of a cowboy and includes a white lone star — a part of the Texas state flag — which the lawsuit states as part of the evidence of false advertising.

Clarkson Law Firm is defending White’s in the lawsuit. Ryan Clarkson, one of the attorneys representing White, said in a statement via text message that the origin of products is integral to consumer purchase decisions.

“Companies who wish to profit therefrom must be truthful about their provenance,” he said. 

Kyle Daniels, a first-year economics and environmental studies major at UNC, said the imagery of Texas Pete is associated with Texas. He said he could understand why consumers like White may have been confused.

“If they have a name of the state on the bottle, you kind of assume that’s from that state,” Daniels said. “That’s a very fair assumption, so I would have no clue that it’s from North Carolina.”

Clarkson said the consequences of false advertising are harmful. He said false marketing damages competition, removes consumer choice and causes customers to pay more for products. 

The suit argues the Winston-Salem hot sauce’s advertising as an authentic Texan hot sauce takes advantage of consumers’ willingness to pay for products that provide satisfaction.

“Imagine buying a sweet tea product called Carolina Charlotte's Sweet Tea, surrounded by imagery of the Blue Ridge Mountains, only to later discover it's manufactured in Detroit,” Clarkson said in the text statement. “When (companies) aren't (truthful), it distorts the marketplace and increases the prices customers pay at the cash register.”

Daniels said he does not find a problem with potentially misleading branding if the product is similar to his preferences as a consumer. However, he said that a lack of accountability with companies’ labeling sets a bad precedent.

A man named Sam Garner and his three sons created the Texas Pete hot sauce in 1929. According to Texas Pete’s website, Garner used "Texas" for its reputation and combined it with “Pete,” which is the nickname of one of his sons.

The Daily Tar Heel contacted Texas Pete for further comment, but the company declined.

While the sauce’s origins have sparked controversy, Pooja Narasimhan, a first-year at N.C. State and self-proclaimed hot sauce enthusiast, said the labeling is clear.

“While the imagery just sort of nudges people to believe that it’s from Texas, if people read the back label, and they were actually concerned about where it came from, I think they would see it was from Winston-Salem,” she said. 

Narasimhan said she was first introduced to Texas Pete hot sauce in her school’s cafeteria. She said she never assumed the sauce was from Texas and was instead drawn to it because she thought it looked flavorful.

“I feel like most people of regular common sense thinking are able to identify that just because something's advertised one way doesn't mean it actually is,” she said.

Narasimhan said consumers should be responsible for determining a product’s geographical location.

The lawsuit seeks to provide compensation for monetary damages. The plaintiffs also seek to force Texas Pete to stop its sales and resume its sales once its advertising adapts to identify its origins.

@gowriabhinanda

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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