The companies that make up the flavor industry — including international manufacturers such as Givaudan, Firmenich and Sensient — are not household names. But they make their money by selling flavors to big food companies such as Kellogg, Kraft and Nestlé.

Last year, Switzerland-based Givaudan reported 4.4 billion Swiss francs (roughly $4.8 billion) in sales of flavor ingredients. The company leads the industry with about 25 percent of the global market share in flavors and fragrances.

“The modern processed food industry could not flourish without the flavor industry,” said Kantha Shelke, a food scientist and spokeswoman for the Institute of Food Technologists, a society of food science professionals.

Today, Shelke said, the flavor industry is “big, it’s complicated and it’s sophisticated” — to the point where companies can create a product that tastes like guacamole without even using avocado as an ingredient. The goal, one industry scientist told CBS’ 60 Minutes in 2011, is to develop addictive flavors that consumers “want to go back for again and again.”

—The Center for Public Integrity reporters Chris Young and Erin Quinn report on how a food industry trade group, not the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, oversees the safety of flavor additives in the U.S.

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