Inside The Blockbuster Plot To Steal Coca-Cola's Top Secret Can Liner

If you're an American pop culture fanatic, you're probably familiar with the so-called Cola Wars that took place during the 1980s and the subsequent plot the sell Coke's coveted secret formula to Pepsi in 2006. While the would-be heist received much media attention, most casual cola observers are probably unaware of another plot to steal Coca-Cola's trade secrets that seems like something straight out of a spy film. 

The woman at the center of the plot was Shannon You, a Chinese-American chemist who had been hired as an engineer in Coca-Cola's research department (via Bloomberg). You had a background in polymer science and had worked with a number of high-profile companies where she worked as a chemist on early 3D printing projects, and even had a hand in inventing industrial adhesives all before beginning her job with Coke. 

You's role at Coke made her responsible for one of the company's most important trade secrets, the formula for a thin coating found inside of every can of Coca-Cola that serves to prevent the sugary liquid from eating through its metallic housing. After You learned she would be laid off from her role with the company as a result of restructuring, the scientist began to devise a plan to steal the formula for the coating and use it to start her own company, per Bloomberg. 

Dr. You's Fraudulent Business Plans Explained

Because the formula for the can coating You had hoped to steal technically belonged to a multitude of materials science and coatings companies, her fraud spanned across a multitude of companies besides Coca-Cola. Before she learned of her looming termination, You had found a way to manipulate the companies responsible for creating Coca-Cola's can coating to let her in on important information that concerned the formulas they used to create the all-important coating. 

It wasn't long until You had compiled a collection of each company's coating formula, even going as far as to start work at a government agency in order to collect more secret can coating formulas after concluding her employment with Coke (via ABC News). 

You's plan was reportedly to take the formulas she had compiled with her back to China in order to apply for the country's prestigious Thousand Talents grant program. The program is designed to help foreign-trained entrepreneurs start their careers in China, but critics of the program say it encourages grant holders to steal proprietary information from foreign companies (via 

As if stealing formulas wasn't enough, You was also found guilty of working with a co-conspirator to create fake documents for the Thousand Talents application that made it look like Coke had given a Chinese-based chemicals company permission to use the formula for their can lining, per Bloomberg. 

How You's Coca-Cola Espionage Came Unraveled

You eventually won the Thousand Talents grant; however, her plan to start her own company was beginning to come apart at the seams. Members of You's family had warned her about previous winners being investigated by the FBI, but the warnings seemed to fall on deaf ears, per Bloomberg

Shortly after winning the program, You went on to work for Eastman Chemical, although her reputation for causing altercations during her time with Coke and other companies had made its way throughout the American chemical coatings industry, according to Bloomberg. You's new employer received correspondence from Coca-Cola and other previous employers advising the chemist's supervisors to be wary of You attempting to break the NDAs she had signed in her previous positions. Her employment quickly came to an end after an altercation with one of the company's top managers which ultimately led to You being asked to hand over a hard drive she had created containing proprietary information from Eastman Chemical and Coca-Cola. When managers found the information hidden on the hard drive, You was reported to the FBI and was arrested shortly after a trip back to China. 

Today, You is serving a 168-month prison sentence after she was found guilty by a Tennessee judge, per the United States Attorney's Office Eastern District of Tennessee. Even after her prison sentence is over, You probably won't be returning to the lab anytime soon, as she is also required to serve out a three-year supervised release term.