The Vegetarian Resource Group Blog

Sugar, Vegan Deli Slices, Whole Grains, Meat Genes – What Will Vegans and Vegetarians Eat? VRG Asks in a New National Harris Poll

Posted on April 18, 2012 by The VRG Blog Editor

By Charles Stahler

Food companies, marketers, researchers, students, and media for years have been asking The Vegetarian Resource Group about the number of vegetarians and vegans. But now that our audience is being taken much more seriously, we are being asked more in-depth questions.

Should items containing sugar whitened with bone char be labeled vegetarian? Will vegetarians eat veggie burgers cooked on a grill where meat was cooked? What about
growing meat in a test tube? To help answer some of these questions, we wanted to find out what vegetarians and vegans are thinking. We did an informal survey of our
Vegetarian Journal subscribers, booth attendees, and on-line visitors. But we also wanted to run a more scientific random poll, which can be extrapolated to the United States adult population.

First we commissioned Harris Interactive to conduct a national telephone poll of a representative sample of 2,030 respondents. This gave us the number of vegetarians with a sampling error of plus or minus two percentage points. We then asked the vegetarians, vegans, and those interested in vegetarian meals:

If you’re looking to buy a vegetarian product, you would purchase:
(Select all that apply.)

  1. Your favorite veggie burger cooked on the same grill where meat is cooked, if the grill is cleaned first.
  2. A vegetarian vegan deli slice sandwich in Subway.
  3. Your favorite dessert containing sugar, if the source of sugar isn’t specified.
  4. A vegetarian dish containing leafy greens such as broccoli, kale, or collards.
  5. A vegetarian dish containing whole foods such as lentils, chickpeas, or rice.
  6. A meat alternative grown from animal cell DNA obtained ten years ago, which does not currently involve the raising of animals.
  7. Your favorite dessert containing sugar whitened through a bone char filter, if bone char is not in the sugar.
  8. None of the above

No answer

NUMBERS AND IMPLICATIONS FOR FOOD COMPANIES, RESTAURANTS, HEALTH PROFESSIONALS, AND FOOD SERVICES
(The questions were asked of those that eat one or more vegetarian meals per week.)

WOULD PURCHASE A VEGETARIAN DISH CONTAINING LEAFY GREENS SUCH AS BROCCOLI, KALE, OR COLLARDS
74% Total
77% Vegans
72% All Vegetarians including vegans
70% Vegetarians not including vegans
75% All those that eat one or more vegetarian meals per week, not including
vegetarians/vegans

Of note is that about three fourths of all audiences are looking for healthy greens, as your favorite dietitian and mom suggested. For restaurants, foodservices, and companies, that are only thinking meat analogs, producing items with green vegetables should seriously be taken into consideration. On the other hand since one quarter of those eating vegetarian meals may not go out of their way to purchase green vegetables, it should not be assumed that a vegetarian or someone eating vegetarian meals (or a meat eater) is automatically eating a healthy diet as suggested by health authorities. When evaluating a vegetarian (or meat eating) client’s diet, a dietitian or other medical professional should specifically ask what is being consumed.

WOULD PURCHASE A VEGETARIAN DISH CONTAINING WHOLE FOODS SUCH AS LENTILS, CHICKPEAS, OR RICE
67% Total
80% Vegans
65% All Vegetarians including vegans
61% Vegetarians not including vegans
68% All those that eat one or more vegetarian meals per week, not including
vegetarians/vegans

This may be of concern long term that about 40% of vegetarians are not seeking whole foods. Dietitians, public health professionals, and educators may need to keep an eye on this. Vegans do appear to be looking for healthier meals.

WOULD PURCHASE YOUR FAVORITE VEGGIE BURGER COOKED ON THE SAME GRILL WHERE MEAT IS COOKED, IF THE GRILL IS CLEANED FIRST
56% Total
53% Vegans
57% All Vegetarians including vegans
58% Vegetarians not including vegans
56% All those that eat one or more vegetarian meals per week, not including
vegetarians/vegans

About half will purchase a veggie burger cooked on the same grill where meat is cooked, if the grill is cleaned first, and about half won’t. We don’t know what percentage of the non-purchasers will eat a veggie burger if the burger is cooked separately. Since people have different views, we believe this points towards labeling and disclosure so customers can make their own decisions. Even in small establishments, it may be possible to meet the needs of some vegetarians by working together. Various options include a microwave or separate pan on the grill. Education of food service staff may work to attract and keep new customers.

WOULD PURCHASE YOUR FAVORITE DESSERT CONTAINING SUGAR, IF THE SOURCE OF THE SUGAR ISN’T SPECIFIED
47% Total
25% Vegans
37% All Vegetarians including vegans
40% Vegetarians not including vegans
49% All those that eat one or more vegetarian meals per week, not including
vegetarians/vegans

Some vegetarians or vegans won’t eat products with white sugar because of concern of the sugar being processed through bone char. See http://www.vrg.org/journal/vj2007issue4/2007_issue4_sugar.php

And some individuals don’t want to consume added sugar at all, or only certain types of sugar for health or political reasons. Just over half of the people eating one or more vegetarian meals once a week are not choosing to buy a dessert if the source of sugar isn’t specified. This is a very strong case for labeling. Manufacturers, restaurants, and foodservices should label the source of their sugar so that consumers can make their own choices. This information should also be easy to find on product and restaurant websites. It makes sense that vegans would be most concerned about the sugar, but it is fascinating there was also a high level of concern among all those that eat one or more vegetarian meals per week. If a manufacturer or restaurant has a doubt about any ingredient being suitable, they certainly should label and disclose.

WOULD PURCHASE A VEGETARIAN VEGAN DELI SLICE SANDWICH IN SUBWAY
47% Total
54% Vegans
54% All Vegetarians including vegans
54% Vegetarians not including vegans
47% All those that eat one or more vegetarian meals per week, not including
vegetarians/vegans

Most chains and restaurants have added vegetarian burgers. About a half of those eating vegetarian meals and thus at least one quarter of the whole population would also buy vegan deli slices. It makes sense for restaurants and food services offering veggie burgers to take this next step and add and promote another convenient sandwich product.

WOULD PURCHASE YOUR FAVORITE DESSERT CONTAINING SUGAR WHITENED THROUGH A BONE CHAR FILTER, IF BONE CHAR IS NOT IN THE SUGAR
21% Total
3% Vegans
21% All Vegetarians including vegans
26% Vegetarians not including vegans
21% All those that eat one or more vegetarian meals per week, not including
vegetarians/vegans.

We were surprised that 80% of the people who eat vegetarian meals, but are not vegetarian, wouldn’t purchase the sugar processed through bone char. Since they already eat meat, why would they care? Possibly many of these people didn’t want a product with sugar, and bone char wasn’t the issue. Or maybe the words “bone char” just sounded bad to them, and they don’t care that it’s an animal product. But it was striking that twice as many people would eat sugar if they didn’t know the source as people who would eat the sugar processed through bone char if they knew this happened. There’s no question that to meet the needs of consumers, companies should be labeling the sources of their ingredients so customers can make their own decisions. This question appears to be the only place where there was a truly large difference between vegans and vegetarians. But this issue still seems like it matters to many vegetarians and those eating vegetarian meals, who are not vegan.

WOULD PURCHASE A MEAT ALTERNATIVE GROWN FROM ANIMAL CELL DNA OBTAINED TEN YEARS AGO, WHICH DOES NOT CURRENTLY INVOLVE THE RAISING OF ANIMALS
11% Total
2% Vegans
4% All Vegetarians including vegans
5% Vegetarians not including vegans
12% All those that eat one or more vegetarian meals per week, not including vegetarians/vegans.

Some advocacy groups, individuals, researchers, and businesses see meat grown in a factory as the answer to numerous environmental and animal welfare issues. As of
now, almost every vegetarian-interested consumer segment seems not to be ready for this product. It is to be expected that vegans wouldn’t want to eat the product, but it’s fascinating how many of the non-vegetarians are not ready for this development. These types of products should be labeled and disclosed so consumers will be able to make their own decisions in the marketplace.

METHODOLOGY

Harris Interactive conducted a survey within the United States by telephone on behalf of The Vegetarian Resource Group between March 15-18, 2012 and March 22-25, 2012, among a nationwide cross section of 2,030 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race, education, region, number of adults in household, and number of telephone lines were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the U.S. population.

For those that ate one or more vegetarian meals per week, we asked follow-up questions.

For the vegetarians, in theory, with probability samples of this size, one could say with 95 percent certainty that the results for the overall sample have a sampling error of plus or minus 10 percentage points. For those that ate one or more vegetarian meals per week, the sampling error would be approximately three percentage points. From our first question, we determined that forty seven percent or 982 respondents ate one or more vegetarian meals per week and asked the follow-up questions of these individuals.

Unfortunately, there are several other possible sources of error in all polls or surveys, including refusals to be interviewed (i.e., non-response), question wording and question order, and weighting. It is impossible to quantify the errors that may result from these factors.

The data above are from the Harris Interactive telephone poll. The interpretation and analysis above are those of The Vegetarian Resource Group, and not directly a result of the poll. The thoughts are based on these numbers and other polls, as well as our other experience and research in the vegetarian movement. These results and our conclusions can drastically change, especially as there are more vegetarians and vegetarians are more knowledgeable.

For more information on Vegetarian Resource Group polls, see
http://www.vrg.org/nutshell/faq.htm#poll

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4 to “Sugar, Vegan Deli Slices, Whole Grains, Meat Genes – What Will Vegans and Vegetarians Eat? VRG Asks in a New National Harris Poll”

  1. Great survey and super info for restaurant advocacy. I may have missed it, but if we total vegetarians, vegans, and eats veg at least 1+ meals a week, what percent was that of the total Harris sample? Presumably one could then estimate a minimum percent of the total population that would eat greens, grains, etc.

    I appreciate your always thorough explanation of methodology and confidence intervals, so that we don’t “over-interpret” results.

  2. Mj says:

    This is a very useful article. I will email it to our local college’s cooking school. I hope others would do the same; they are training the food leaders of the future.

  3. Larry Palmer says:

    Interesting poll and thank you Harris. Several comments on the questions. The leafy greens answer may be swayed geographically. West coast and northern states include collards as a stand-alone leaf or mixed leaf salad item, but southern states and east coast states Virgina south, serve collards as a warm spicey side, spices with onions garlic and bacon fat.Without clarity on the matter vegans and vegetarians from the latter states would say no! My other clarity issue is with the simu-dna meat. Its the use of the term “meat alternative”. Common usage places vegie burgers in that category and the subsequent confusion could have skewed the results. Sounds GMO to me, Soylent Green anyone? The final is on the bone char/ sugar issue. the cysteine problem could very easily skew most vegetarians and vegans here. If the price is right , no tellin what bones were used. To my fellow vegans who answered yes to the sugar questions, Children, when it comes to food, china white is never right! Still, I feel less marginalized with a national pollster taking up such questions. Thank you Harris.

  4. There’s great value in gathering information about our broad, extended community without ideological assumptions.

    Often discussions on these questions are framed in terms of advocacy for one position or the other.

    The question seems to be more ‘What will VEGETARIANS eat?’ than ‘Should nonvegetarian restaurants offer vegan options?’ (could be an advocacy issue; are vegetarians the primary market in a business’s offering such options to its broader clientele who are more likely to choose meatless meals for reasons of their own individual health).



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