Government agency Enterprise Ireland, said the €20m investment, the largest it has ever made in terms of research and development, will be used to a support a joint consensus among some of the country's manufacturers on research needs in the field of food functionality.
A National Functional Foods Research Centre will also be established as a result of the cooperation in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture and Food and Science Foundation Ireland.
The announcement follows comments made earlier this year by the Irish dary board that a changing industry landscape, not least in an EU undergoing agricultural reforms, required greater product innovation to ensure long-term competitiveness.
A spokesperson for the enterprise Ireland told DairyReporter.com that Dairygold Food Ingredients, Glanbia Nutritionals, Carbery and Kerry Ingredients Ireland had agreed on a number of focus areas in terms of product development.
These areas include milk screening and bioavailablity, formulation of products using bioactives, developments in nutrition for early infants and cardiovascular health and the establishment of an education and out reach program. Issues regarding immunity and infection will also be looked at as part of the strategy.
"As the research is looking ahead to the next generation of products, the idea is that the project will lead to the development of a new range of products and a niche market for the companies involved," the spokesperson stated.
A consortium including UCC, UCD, UL and Teagasc will lead the research centre, which is targeting innovation across the food industry.
Enterprise Ireland said that in terms of dairy industry support, the site will be a major step in better understanding untapped potential in milk processing.
"The researchers will extract bioactive molecules from milk to develop ingredients that when added to products like yogurts, dairy spreads, cheese and drinks can have beneficial effects for those with conditions such as cardiovascular disease," they said.
Each of the four companies involved in the research will provide additional funding to the focus, with more groups expected to come on board with the scheme beyond its initial five-year lifespan, enterprise Ireland claimed.