People have been using spices and other flavorings to add zest to their food and their lives since well before recorded history.  From early times, flavors have been part of a quest to make life more enjoyable and to help make foods and beverages taste better.

Our own native land came to the world’s attention because Christopher Columbus sailed off in 1492 to seek a faster route to Far Eastern spice sources.  Centuries later, the advent of commercial food processing created the need for flavors that were familiar to consumers yet could be incorporated into the new methods of mass production of food.

Businesses in Germany and Switzerland were the first to expand the market significantly, through the development of synthetic aromatic chemicals that served as the basis for many new artificial flavors.  Most of these early commercially produced flavoring substances traced their roots to indigenous ingredients “discovered” by Columbus and other early explorers.

In the United States, many flavor companies began as importers of European essential oils and other flavoring substances.  They soon expanded to meet local economic and market needs by formulating and manufacturing ingredients domestically.  At the beginning of the 1900s, a growing number of food and beverage companies including Kellogg, Campbell Soup, Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola, created even more demand for commercial flavors.

Forward-thinking executives of these early U.S. flavor firms recognized the value of joining together to support the growth of the industry.  Formalizing their association in the wake of the first Pure Food and Drugs Act of 1906, these early pioneers created the Flavoring Extract Manufacturers’ Association (FEMA), the forerunner of today’s Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association, in 1909.

The growing demand for pure, high-quality flavorings helped FEMA quickly evolve into an organization that not only reflected its members’ business concerns but also took the lead in protecting consumer interests.  Sometimes, FEMA found it necessary to defend the integrity of the industry because its very mystique made it a victim of scurrilous press attacks or widespread misconceptions.

As early as 1914, FEMA could “claim to occupy the important position of being the guardian of the interests of the flavoring extract manufacturing industry of the United States…[and]…in a position to shape the future course of the extract industry of the country,” according to Thomas Lannen, FEMA’s first attorney and the first U.S. food and drug lawyer.

And shape the industry FEMA has done over the past 100 years, from formulating standards to fighting unfair taxation to contributing to the 1958 Food Additives Amendment and so much more.  Perhaps the most notable is the FEMA GRAS program, which has been in the forefront of the concept of using science to demonstrate safety, and has grown to be a globally respected pillar of flavor safety assessment.  The association’s efforts to promote quality and safety, weed out problem ingredients and help its members protect their valuable trade secrets have become a model of what a trade association can and should be.

FEMA’s leadership, its knowledge and awareness of industry trends, and its proactive posture on industry issues have helped its member companies survive and thrive.  In an age when consumers focus on healthy eating, counting calories, reducing fat and, as some might say, taking the joy out of food, our industry continues to play a pivotal role by enhancing the experience of eating and drinking through the use of safe and distinctive flavor ingredients.

Comprising more than 100 companies today, many with deep roots in the industry, FEMA continues to provide value for its members and to enlist their expertise and support in developing strategies for the future.

Excerpt from Introduction to FEMA 100: A Century of Great Taste, written by Howard Smith Jr., FEMA President 2008-2009 and President of Virginia Dare Extract Co, Inc., a fourth generation FEMA member