Food and drink manufacturers and retailers are helping to fund a £3.7m research project investigating the link between diet and health, which will ultimately inform new product development.

Fourteen food and drink companies, including Coca Cola, Mondelez, Sainsbury’s and Unilever, are contributing funding to the research, alongside the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Medical Research Council (MRC).

The money will support six research projects to improve the understanding of the connection between diet and health, including novel ways to reduce levels of saturated fats, sugar and salt in foods; how to use environmental prompts to encourage healthy portion control; and a comparison of the metabolisms of breast-fed and bottle-fed babies.

The funding is provided through the Diet and Health Research Industry Club (DRINC), a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)-led partnership with 14 food and drink companies, with support from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the MRC.

Dr Celia Caulcott, BBSRC executive director, innovation and skills, said: “Our health is closely linked to our diet and is important to us individually, as well as to society and our economy as a whole. These Diet and Health Research Industry Club projects will conduct valuable research to address important challenges for industry and consumers that can be translated into real benefits for all.”

Professor Dr Judy Buttriss, director general of the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) and chair of the DRINC steering group, said: “I am delighted that six world-class studies into aspects of diet, health and disease are to be supported in the new round of Diet and Health Research Industry Club funding. All six have the potential to produce important results that could deliver real benefit to the health and wellbeing of consumers in the UK, and around the world.”

BBSRC and MRC will together fund 90% of the six projects, with the remaining 10% coming from industry partners. The six projects have been funded in the second call of the second phase of DRINC. The first phase allocated £15m to support high-quality diet and health research between 2007-2010.

An independent evaluation in 2011 recommended the continuation of DRINC to maintain the UK’s strength in diet and health research, which underpins the needs of the food and drink industry. The companies in this industry form the single-largest manufacturing sector in the UK, employ 3.7 million people, and account for around 7% of UK GDP.

In total, the second phase of DRINC will fund £10m of research.