Bread Company Litigation Over “Grandma’s Recipe” Ends With $2.1 Million Trade Secrets Verdict

On October 6, 2017, a federal jury in Utah entered a $2.1 million trade secret verdict in favor of Bimbo Bakeries USA.  Following a trial that wrapped up more than four years of litigation, the jury concluded that defendant Leland Sycamore knowingly used the trade secret recipe for Grandma Sycamore’s bread in the production of rival Grandma Emilie’s bread for defendant US Bakery, despite the fact that he had previously sold the rights to Grandma Sycamore’s to Bimbo.

Bimbo filed suit in 2013, alleging that US Bakery had hired Sycamore to produce a new version of Grandma Emilie’s bread that relied on Bimbo’s trade secret method and used confusingly similar packaging to sell the bread to consumers.

Back in 1998, Sycamore sold the Grandma Sycamore’s brand, which had been in his family since the 1970s, to a predecessor of Bimbo.  As part of this deal, Sycamore agreed to maintain the confidentiality of all associated manufacturing and assembly procedures, recipes and trade secrets.

Other than the fact that jury verdicts in trade secrets cases (or in any case, for that matter) are relatively rare, this case is notable for two reasons.

First, it explains what might qualify as a trade secret in the culinary arena, providing clarity in an area that, as we’ve observed, has long been plagued by confusion over what combination of IP protections and contractual agreements will protect valuable recipes.  Applying Utah’s enactment of the Uniform Trade Secrets Act, the court denied the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, noting that, even if Bimbo’s purported trade secret contained known elements, Bimbo could establish a trade secret by showing that its compilation of known elements was “outside the general knowledge and not ascertainable by proper means.”

Second, this case is an interesting reminder that even though a secret process might originate within a business, that same business may face legal risks down the road for using the process if it has been licensed or sold to a third party with the appropriate safeguards to ensure confidentiality and the third party’s right to use the process.