Trade secrets of business

A photograph of a woman drinking Coca-Cola, representing businesses with well protected trade secrets

Since 1886, Coca-Cola’s recipe has remained unchanged. But that hasn’t stopped rivals, entrepreneurs and employees alike from trying to copy it (in 2006 Pepsi called in the FBI after two Coca-Cola staff tried to sell a phial of the formula). Today, the original recipe is kept inside a vault at Atlanta’s SunTrust bank with only two executives knowing the details. As Coca-Cola celebrates its 130th anniversary on 8 May, here are six other businesses that go to great lengths to protect their trade secrets…


A photograph of Google employees assembled in the shape of a big 'G', representing businesses with well protected trade secrets.

The tech giant’s algorithm dictates which web pages show up most prominently in search results, thereby increasing traffic for some sites and shunting others towards online Siberia. Despite the German government calling for Google to reveal its “secret sauce recipe” in 2014 to boost competition, the formula remains secret.

IRN-BRU: Trade secrets

A photo of a bottle of Irn-Bru, representing businesses with well protected trade secrets

“Made in Scotland from girders” went the 1980s tagline for this brightly hued Caledonian soft drink, whose 32-ingredient formula (sadly, “girder” isn’t one) is known by just three people – none of whom travel on the same plane in case the recipe goes down with it. Anybody hoping to emulate the mysteries of the UK’s third-best-selling soft drink “would have a better chance getting your head round a U-bend” according to Irn-Bru’s website.

A photograph of The New York Times building representing businesses with well protected trade secrets

It’s considered the most important barometer of top-selling books in the world. Yet, much to the chagrin of many publishers and authors, nobody but the newspaper itself knows the calculations used to compile the list. With the New York Times arguing that publishers could rig the system if its methodology was disclosed, it hasn’t stopped authors launching legal action when their books have been omitted.

WD-40: Trade secrets
A photo of bottles of WD-40 representing businesses with well protected trade secrets

In the US, household cleaner and lubricant spray WD-40 is known as the “can with a thousand uses”. Yet, its secret formula has been kept in a bank vault for decades, only being brought out twice – when the company changed banks and, most notably, for its 50th birthday in 2003, escorted by the CEO dressed as a knight and riding a horse.


A photo of a sticky toffee pudding representing products with well protected trade secrets

The dessert was supposedly invented at the Sharrow Bay hotel in the Lake District in the 1970s. Only a few chefs know how to make the dish and the recipe stays locked in a vault at the hotel. In 2008, guests had to sign a secrecy clause after an attempt to obtain the recipe and post it on YouTube.



For more see

About author

Director magazine

Director magazine

Director is the magazine for business leaders. Free to IoD members and available to purchase through subscription, each edition is full of insightful interviews with entrepreneurs and company directors.

No comments

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.