Britons' love affair with 'mood foods' now a £1.1bn market

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Indy Lifestyle Online

It is a chocoholic's dream. Not only can they indulge in their favourite treat, but they can also say, honestly, that it is doing them good. "Mental Balance Chocolate Gaba" is not just any chocolate, however. It is one of a number of products being pushed in the food industry's latest marketing hype: mood foods.

Britain's obsession with life-enhancing, health-promoting foods generates more than £1bn annually, with the market for anti-carcinogenic, macrobiotic, lifestyle foods reaching near saturation point - Mintel, a market research company, estimates sales to have been worth £1.1bn up to 2006, having grown 143 per cent since the start of the decade.

The focus has been on the physical benefits of food and nutrition supplements. Now firms are changing their marketing strategies to "mood foods".

The market for foods containing omega-3 is worth £67m. Promoted as a supplement that boosts mental development and good behaviour in children (and even prison inmates), it is added to products ranging from cereal bars and yoghurts to bread, milk and even sweets.

Its success has prompted companies to look for similar products. Consumers can expect to see heavy promotion for at least four products in supermarkets this year: Gaba (gamma-aminobutyric acid), L-theanine, B vitamins and phosphatidlyserine.

Gaba, as found in Mental Balance Chocolate, which is on sale in Japan, is said to reduce anxiety. It is naturally found in chocolate, and new products promoting its benefits are expected to be marketed by Nestlé, Yakult and Coca-Cola. Little wonder, as the chocolate generated more than £25m in its first year in Japan.

L- theanine is naturally found in green tea and is said to promote relaxation and increase concentration and focus. The food multinational Unilever is promoting the benefits in one of its brands, PG Tips. Other brands are expected to follow suit.

B vitamins are found in many foods, such as green vegetables, meat, rice and wholemeal bread. Companies aim to promote the vitamins' properties in combating stress and depression.

Phosphatidlyserine helps to improve memory and is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for its benefits in treating memory loss and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

However, some food experts sounded a note of caution. Michael Franklin, the founder of the Allergy and Nutrition Centre, said: "I don't think most people care if products have omega-3 or whatever in it. But if more people start to learn that food affects your mood then it will help people realise that they need to change the way they eat."

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