Supermarkets signed up this week to new pledges to boost fruit and veg sales - but the coalition immediately faced questions as to why it rejected a virtually identical offer from retailers nearly 18 months earlier.

Under Responsibility Deal pledges, more space in store will be dedicated to fresh produce, backed by more promotion. Several retailers are also promising new ranges.

Yet the deal closely mirrors one dismissed by the DH following negotiations with the BRC in July last year, after the plans were taken up by the Scottish government.

Like the original proposals, pledges include retailers increasing the proportion of fruit and veg in own-brand ready-meals and soups.

“We could have done all of this a year ago,” said one supermarket source. “The measures are identical.”

One reason for the delay, the source added, was that the government was looking for a headline-grabbing figure similar to the billion calorie and five billion alcohol unit pledges already made, which retailers were unwilling to back.

However, the number of signatories is now higher, including discounters Aldi, Lidl and Iceland. And the 16 launch partners also includes two suppliers: General Mills and Mars.

The Co-operative Group also announced this week a new initiative in which it would promote fresh produce using money-off coupons on fresh, frozen and canned produce, in a bid to “change customer behaviour” as part of its commitment to the Deal.

The BRC’s Andrew Opie said he hoped the deal would “nail the myth” that eating healthily was expensive.

DH denied the process had been too slow. “What we’ve announced today are the first 16 companies to sign up,” said a spokeswoman.