In the New York Times today, a revealing picture of the (American) muffin business.
Bite into a Thomas’ English muffin and, it turns out, you are about to swallow one of the most closely guarded secrets in the world of baking.
The company that owns the Thomas’ brand says that only seven people know how the muffins get their trademark tracery of air pockets — marketed as nooks and crannies — and it has gone to court to keep a tight lid on the secret.
The article was written in the context of a former employee who went to work for a rival and is now being barred from doing so because of the possible leakage of Thomas’ trade secrets.
One amazing bits is how Thomas kept the recipe a secret.
According to Bimbo’s filings, the secret of the nooks and crannies was split into several pieces to make it more secure, and to protect the approximately $500 million in yearly muffin sales. They included the basic recipe, the moisture level of the muffin mixture, the equipment used and the way the product was baked. While many Bimbo employees may have known one or more pieces of the puzzle, only seven knew every step.
“Most employees possess information only directly relevant to their assigned task,” Daniel P. Babin, a Bimbo senior vice president, said in a written court declaration, “and very few employees, such as Botticella, possess all of the knowledge necessary to produce a finished product.”
This is a strategy for immortality — in this case, the economic life of a product — that comes straight from Lord Voldemort and the division of his soul into 7 horcrux. I wonder how restrictive on innovation it has been.