With obesity levels rising on both sides of the Atlantic, the need to understand consumers’ attitudes towards healthier food has never been so pressing. Today (29 January), food industry executives met in London to discuss the issues around diet, health and, with the EU set to issue its own guidelines on nutritional labelling tomorrow, the ongoing debate over how the industry should communicate what is in products to consumers.

Here is a round-up of the key quotes from today’s conference –

“It’s frustrating how often the industry gets kicked for political reasons” – Julian Hunt, director of communications, Food & Drink Federation

“People say: ‘Produce healthier products’ – but that’s easier said than done. For a company like Mars, we have taken out really bad stuff like reducing saturated fat levels but chocolate is chocolate – it will always have fat levels and should be eaten in moderation – Klaske de Jonge, corporate communications director, Mars Europe

“With traffic lights, there are different nuances and that illustrates the difference in the whole debate. There is a lot to learn” – Dr Jane Holdsworth, GDA Campaign

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“We’ve certainly seen anecdotally that consumers may choose products that contain more reds [products with red “traffic lights” on their nutritional labelling] at weekends and, perhaps, more ambers and greens during the week. But, to me, that was how the scheme was designed to work by the [Food Standards] agency” – Moira Howie – nutrition manager, Waitrose

“With GDAs [guideline daily amounts], more consumers have become more aware of their nutrition but we haven’t seen a shift in consumer behaviour as a result of putting that information on-pack” – Claire Hughes, nutritionist, Marks & Spencer

“We’ve never seen the debate on nutritional labelling as a battle. The rather shrill criticism of the industry loses sight of the fact that four years ago, no-one was talking about front-of-pack labelling. We all have a common goal of helping the consumer understand what constitutes a healthy, balanced diet” – Julian Hunt

“We will have on-pack nutritional labelling on all of our products over the next two years. That costs millions of euros and sometimes NGOs and other groups don’t understand how costly this is” – Klaske de Jonge

It’s right to be cautious about extending traffic lights across all categories – how far do consumers want it to go?” – Moira Howie

“Portion size is a really important area for us; we need agreed portion sizes across all packaging” – Dr Jane Holdsworth

“In the UK, healthy eating means cutting out unhealthy things and it’s also the case in the US. In France, it’s all about quality, variety and homemade food. It’s something to treasure and it’s about cooking and fresh ingredients. In Germany, where they have always been a little bit more technical, they prefer added vitamins, high fibre and organic food” – Klaske de Jonge

“We are very proud of the EU Pledge. It is difficult to get all these big companies around the table as they come along with different perspectives on these issues. As a company from the US, it was difficult to convince Americans that if you don’t make a bold step in terms of regulation, the European Commission will do it for you” – Klaske de Jonge