Posted by Barry Silverstein on June 14, 2010 01:15 PM
Brands are made all the more fascinating when they have distinctive properties that they believe are uniquely theirs. Thomas' English Muffins, long known for its "nooks and crannies," is so concerned about that attribute that its parent company, Bimbo Bakeries USA (a division of Mexican giant Grupo Bimbo) is suing a former employee who has been offered employment with a competitor.
Chris Botticella, who was Bimbo's VP for operations, was apparently one of "only seven executives [who] know all three parts of its winning formula for making the muffins — including how much dough to use, the right amount of moisture and the proper way to bake them."
Lovers of the Thomas' product tend to wax poetic about the ability of the nooks and crannies to hold butter, jam, and other toppings. The muffins are known to be favored by some burger enthusiasts as well; one Long Island restaurant, The Good Steer, has put its burgers on Thomas' English Muffins for over 50 years.
Botticella was offered a job with Hostess Brands. Although that company does not currently produce English muffins, Bimbo wants to make sure Hostess cannot use Botticella's knowledge of those nooks and crannies should Hostess decide to enter the muffin business.
Bimbo is going to great lengths because the Thomas' brand is key to the company's U.S. sales, which were $900 million in the first quarter of 2010. But the case is about more than just dough. Botticella signed a confidentiality agreement with Bimbo, and Bimbo's lawyers say he "hid his new employment deal for months while attending high-level Bimbo meetings and debating strategies for competing with Hostess."
A district court judge has barred Botticella from working for Hostess until the suit is resolved; Botticella is appealing the decision.
So what started as a fight over nooks and crannies has sparked corporate branding fears about crooks and nannies.