Chocolate has come out on top as the star of the emerging mood food category - but its future maybe under threat if companies fail to win health claims for their products.
Frost & Sullivan has said the segment has emerged as companies attempt tp cash in on food's ability to stimulate neurotransmitters and help induce a good mood.
Market analysts at the firm said chocolate has now elevated itself to becoming a "psycho-active" food.
This is good news for chocolate manufactures who will be able to tap into the emerging segment with products aimed at making people feel happy.
But the analysts give one word of warning. As the segment is so new, it could be another "passing fad" unless these products achieve health claims status in Europe.
Under health claims legislation, companies which wish to make a claim about a foods' physiological effect must have scientific documentation to support their claims.
"While there is abundant research backing these foods, it appears so far to be quite subjective and generalised," the analysts agreed.
Feel good factor
Frost & Sullivan said that research has found the answer to chocolates feel good factor. It contains anandamide like ice-creams and other positive neurotransmitters such as oleolethanolamine and N-linoleoylethanolamine, caffeine and theobromine. All these chemicals have been detemined to have active psychological effects.
Chocolate is also rich in tryptophan, an essential amino acid which is connected with the production of the mood-modulating neurotransmitter serotonin.
Chocolate also contains the amino acid gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) that is said to reduce anxiety.
Already firms are making headway with mood boosting chocolate. Ezaki Glico has launched a stress-reducing "Mental Balance Chocolate GABA.". The product's first year sales of $50m (€ 34m) surpassed all forecasts.
Frost & Sullivan estimates the market for mood chocolate is worth at least $100m (€68m) in retail sales, which grew 20 per cent last year.
They conclude that the future of mood foods has never looked "merrier" and big players such as Unilever, Nestlé, Yakult and Glico are already taking note.
"The industry has awakened to this trend and is heavily investing in research, innovations and belligerent marketing to stay one step ahead of the game," Frost & Sullivan said.
In 2002, the Scottish ice-cream maker Mackie's launched a mood-enhancing low calorie ice cream flavoured with the essence of a native Alaskan orchid, which claims to make people happy.
In November 2006, Nestlé announced an investment of around $4 million a year over a five year period, for research into the relationship between nutrition and the brain, Frost & Sullivan gave as examples.
An estimated 10 to 20 percent of Americans experience a seasonal change in their mood each year, particularly during the winter months, according to a survey in December, commissioned by manufacturer Pharmavite and undertaken by Harris Interactive.
In response they turn to food to help cheer them up, Harris Interactive found.