Trade secrets may very well be the most valuable thing that a company owns. They drive that company's success. They're more important than operational processes or individual employees. They matter more than investors or advertising. They also can define how well a company does and how long it lasts.
Just look at Coca-Cola. The recipe for Coke was created by a pharmacist over 100 years ago. To this day, the company religiously guards that recipe. Even with a company that employs tens of thousands of people all over the world, just a handful of people actually know how the product is made. As a result, Coca-Cola is perhaps the most successful carbonated beverage of all time, driving a multibillion-dollar company.
That doesn't mean there is no competition. But it does mean that Coke can claim to be unique. If consumers want that exact flavor, there is only one way to get it.
The same is true for many other companies. Two great examples are the formula used to make the popular all-purpose lubrication WD-40 and the exact combination of spices and herbs used by KFC. While people know that KFC uses 11 different spices and herbs, they do not know exactly what they are or what ratios are used.
Again, the goal is to be unique. If you want fried chicken that tastes a specific way or an all-purpose lubrication that you know is going to work, you turn to the big brands. In turn, these three companies are the biggest in the world in their specific markets.
This is the reason that trade secrets are so closely guarded. Company owners need to know exactly what steps to take to protect them and what to do if those secrets are compromised.