How Often Do Americans Eat Vegetarian Meals? And How Many Adults in the U.S. Are Vegetarian? The Vegetarian Resource Group asks in a 2012 National Harris Poll
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. To again help answer this question, VRG commissioned Harris Interactive® to conduct a nationally representative telephone poll of 2,030 adults aged 18 and over. We asked:
Which of the following, if any, best describes your eating behavior?
(Just select one choice.)
1) You never eat meat, fish, seafood, or poultry.
2) You don’t eat meat, fish, seafood, or poultry at one meal per week.
3) You don’t eat meat, fish, seafood, or poultry one full day per week.
4) You don’t eat meat, fish, seafood, or poultry at many of my meals, but less than half the time.
5) You don’t eat meat, fish, seafood, or poultry at more than half of my meals, but not all the time.
6) You never eat meat, fish, seafood, poultry, dairy, or eggs.
7) Not any of the above.
We considered those that never eat meat, fish, seafood or poultry, as vegetarian; and those that never eat meat, fish, seafood, poultry, dairy, or eggs, as vegan. Because we use the word “never” and don’t just ask if a person considers him/herself vegetarian, our numbers may be lower than others. We did not ask about honey for vegans.
Forty seven percent of the country eats at least one vegetarian meal per week. This has strong implications for food companies and restaurants. There is incentive for producing vegetarian products as there is demand from almost half the population. However, based on our other research outside this poll, it’s not enough just to produce meatless items, but businesses have to cater to various needs, which may include price, health, convenience, source of ingredients, taste, religious requirements, etc. And since half the country did not say they consume vegetarian meals, marketing is more complex because of such different audiences.
HOW OFTEN DO AMERICANS EAT VEGETARIAN MEALS?
(Don’t Eat Meat, Fish, Seafood, or Poultry)
7% One meal per week
7% One day per week
15% Many of your meals, but less than half the time
14% More than half your meals, but not all the time
4% Always (Vegetarian including vegans. Never eat meat, fish, or poultry)
3% Always (Vegetarian not including vegans. Never eat meat, fish, or poultry.)
1% Always (Vegans. Never eat meat, fish, poultry, dairy, or eggs)
47% Estimated population who eats vegetarian meals
The needs of the individuals interested in vegetarian meals can be different. For example, food companies and restaurants should note that consumers may be looking for vegan, low-sodium, gluten-free, locally grown, organic, gourmet, kosher, or other selections. If developing a vegetarian product or offering vegetarian meals, they will need to do more research on their customers’ food preferences. In addition, when considering products and marketing strategies, businesses should consider the special needs of vegetarians versus those interested in vegetarian meals.
PEOPLE WHO NEVER EAT MEAT, FISH, OR POULTRY
(Total Number of Vegetarians and Vegans)
3% 65 plus
4% Below $35,000 household income
5% $35,000 – $50,000 family income
4% $50,000 – $75,000 family income
5% $75,000 – $100,000 family income
1% Over $100,000 family income.
5% High school education or less
3% Partial college
5% College graduate
It is fascinating that contrary to popular thought that there isn’t much difference between male, female, region, or age for actual vegetarians. This also generally applies to family income, except for those making over $100,000 per year. Interesting that those earning over $100,000 are “the one percent.” Though the number of Hispanics is higher than might be expected, we’ve seen this kind of result previously in our poll and other polls. Among vegans, we found there isn’t a difference between male and females, with one percent of each being vegan.
PEOPLE WHO EAT ONE OR MORE VEGETARIAN MEALS PER WEEK
(Not including vegetarians or vegans)
45% 65 plus
47 % West
43% Below $35,000 household income
42% $35,000 – $50,000 family income
45% $50,000 – $75,000 family income
46% $75,000 – $100,000 family income
47% Over $100,000 family income.
39% High school education or less
47% Partial college
45% College graduate
Harris Interactive conducted this survey within the United States by telephone on behalf of The Vegetarian Resource Group from March 15 to March 18, 2012, and from March 22 to March, 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. 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 2 percentage points. 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.
Four percent of U.S. adults were found to be vegetarian. With U.S. adults 18 and over numbering about 230 million, we can estimate the number of vegetarians in the U.S. adult population, based on this poll, to be approximately nine million adults. Vegans included in the vegetarian figures would be around 2 million people. If you take into account the margin of sampling error of the poll, we can estimate the number of vegetarians in the U.S. population to range from approximately 5 million to about 14 million adults. With margin of sampling error, vegans could range as high as 6.9 million.