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From 2001 to 2004, between 24 and 34 percent of Americans cited the cost of healthful foods as a major reason for not eating as healthful a diet as they should (Food Marketing Institute, 2005). Data from 2004 indicate that cost is not just a concern for those with a low income; nearly 40 percent of shoppers with household incomes between $50,000 and $75,000 cite cost as a major barrier to a more healthful diet (Food Marketing Institute, 2005). Furthermore, foods naturally low in sodium often have higher prices. A survey of food prices from 1950 to 2007 found that real fruit and vegetable prices—foods that are naturally low in sodium when unprocessed—have increased since the 1950s even though general food costs have declined in recent decades (Christian and Rashad, 2009). Consumer education could play a role in informing consumers of the benefits of lower-sodium foods, thus increasing their demand for these foods (and their associated willingness to pay), and educating consumers on how to select lower-sodium foods within their budgets.

Household “Value” Associated with Food Preparation

Household production theory broadens the concept of consumer utility discussed above to address the fact that individuals within households are both utility maximizers and producing units. Households combine time and market goods to produce commodities for consumption. In this context, households maximize utility from consumption of goods, including foods, but are subject to not only the limitations of their budgets but also the limitations of their time. The full price of consumption includes the direct cost of purchasing a commodity and the indirect cost of time spent on production within the household (Becker, 1965). In the context of food, households purchase foods at various levels of preparation and apply time toward food preparation and consumption within the home or toward consuming meals away from home. Becker (1965) noted, in particular, that an increase in the value of a household member’s time may induce that individual to enter the labor force and spend less time cooking by using pre-cooked foods. Underlying the concept of production within the household is the level of human capital in the household for preparing foods (i.e., the knowledge and ability to prepare foods from raw ingredients) and also its preferences for certain goods and activities (Pollak and Wachter, 1975).

The trend over time has been for households to allocate more time toward working outside the home and less time to household production, particularly as more women have entered the workforce (Redman, 1980). As a result of this change, households purchase more prepared or convenience foods for use within the home and more away-from-home meals (Capps et al., 1985; Kinsey, 1983; McCracken and Brandt, 1987; Redman, 1980). When consuming prepared foods and food away from home, individuals

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