WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (WGHP) — The maker behind Texas Pete hot sauce is not backing down after a court decided against dismissing a lawsuit that accuses the North Carolina manufacturer of false advertising.

A statement released to FOX8 on Tuesday on behalf of T.W. Garner Food Co. indicates the company plans to continue fighting back.

“We will vigorously defend ourselves from these meritless claims,” the company said. “We would like to thank our customers, employees, vendors, and the public for your outpouring of support, as well as, your creative commentary. You are the reason the Texas Pete® brand is so special. 

“We are proud of the long and storied history of the Texas Pete® brand. You can find the origin story of Texas Pete® in the opening sentence on our About page here: Nearly a century ago, the founders of Garner Foods wanted a name to connote the spicy flavor of what would become their signature sauce and the American heritage of the company. This was at a time long before ‘hot sauce’ was even commonly known or had been widely adopted as one of America’s favorite condiments. We first registered the Texas Pete® trademark in 1953 and registered the official name ‘Texas Pete’ in 1960. Since then, we’ve been proudly producing our signature hot sauce for a growing community of loyal and passionate customers who have embraced the Texas Pete® brand in a very personal way.”

Inside the lawsuit

Filed by plaintiff Phillip White on Sept. 12, a class action lawsuit claims that T.W. Garner Food Co. is deceptively marketing Texas Pete as a Texan product when it’s actually made in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. 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 give money to past customers.

T.W. Garner Food Co. filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit on Nov. 10, but U.S. District Judge Maame Ewusi-Mensah Frimpong denied the motion to dismiss on July 31.

Frimpong said in her 20-page order that, while the label does include mention of “Winston-Salem, NC,” it is not clear that this is where the product is made and not just the location of the company’s corporate headquarters.

The manufacturer argued that the label’s images of a white star and lassoing caricature are not solely unique to Texas, but Frimpong said that this “does not discount the possibility that a reasonable consumer would believe that the Products are based in or originate from Texas.”

Frimpong also countered the argument that the name “Texas” could harken to any “Texas,” including the “coastal town of Texas, North Carolina.

“Texas is one of the largest states in the United States and, Texas, North Carolina, appears to be relatively unknown, meaning that it is far more likely that a reasonable consumer will have the state of Texas top of mind when viewing the Products’ labels, not the ‘coastal town,'” Frimpong said.

Frimpong’s full order is included below.

Where this all started

Philip White was at a Ralph’s in Los Angeles when he bought a $3 bottle of Texas Pete back in September 2022, according to the initial complaint.

“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 a product of Texas. In the complaint, he added that Texas Pete is a Louisiana-style hot sauce, not a distinctly Texan style, and does not use Texan ingredients.

In the product’s history, T.W. Garner Food Co. says the name was meant to evoke Texas’ reputation for spicy cuisine. The titular Texas Pete character is named after Sam Garner’s son Harold whose nickname is Pete.