The Vegetarian Resource Group Blog

How Often Do Americans Eat Vegetarian Meals? And How Many Adults in the U.S. Are Vegetarian?

Posted on May 18, 2012 by Nina Casalena, The VRG Blog Editor

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.
No Answer.

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)

4% Total
3% male
5% female
5% 18-34
4% 35-44
4% 45-54
3% 55-64
3% 65 plus
4% Northeast
3% Midwest
4% South
5% West
3% White
6% Black
8% Hispanic
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)

43% Total
40% male
45% female
41% 18-34
39% 35-44
44% 45-54
46% 55-64
45% 65 plus
41% Northeast
41% Midwest
41% South
47 % West
44% White
40% Black
39% Hispanic
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

METHODOLOGY
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.

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7 to “How Often Do Americans Eat Vegetarian Meals? And How Many Adults in the U.S. Are Vegetarian?”

  1. Chloe says:

    Thanks for the survey.

    Its interested to see that 4% of the total population is vegetarian.

    With the awareness around health related issues I wonder how much this figure will change each year.

  2. MJ says:

    I agree with Chloe that we are bound to see this number increase over the years. But we must not be complacent; we must all do vegan outreach, one way or another. It would be great to discuss different ways people can do vegan outreach of different kinds. Top of mind: feedback to restaurants/grocery stores and other companies (quick, easy and relatively anonymous), college campus outreach, hosting movies, rating vegan books (library systems often have this option), sharing the latest research with friends and colleagues, hosting a vegan potluck and I’m sure there is more. We have to help this movement take-off and take ownership for the results or lack there-of.

  3. One of the reason for increase in the vegitarians in US could be due to increase in the Indian migrants over the last few years with opening up of US market for software services. Since this is in the age group of 18 to 34 you find this increase and may not be due to shift in the habits of people desiring to eat Vegitarians.

    It is still difficult to find vegitarian restuarants in US and many restaurants offer just one or two dishes such as veg. rolls or sandwitches and nothing more. Most of the vegitarian resturants are clustered in places where Indian communities are concentrated as if to meet this requirements.

  4. Rob says:

    I’m surprised that only 43% of non-vegetarian Americans eat a vegetarian meal at least once per week. I thought just about everybody ate an ovo-lacto-vegetarian breakfast, such as hot or cold cereal, most of the time. Peanut butter sandwiches and egg salad sandwiches are frequent lunchtime choices for a lot of people.

    Is it possible that some of the respondents thought “meal” referred specifically to dinner?

  5. Also http://www.thisishopethebook dot com
    I believe it was in 2006 that VRG clarified its polling methodology to more specifically question specific food types of consumption (chicken, eggs, dairy, seafood and the like) to determine who fell into the vegan and vegetarian groupings. The numbers for those groups as percentages would be more meaningful if the polls since then were averaged to-date. We are still in the dark about the size of the practicing populations given the sampling error’s ratio (+/- 5%) to vegan/vegetarian practitioners (4%). In 2006, wasn’t it more like 5% “evenly” divided vegan/vegetarian?

  6. Correction: My message should have read “+/-2%”.

  7. Please replace my last post with the following:

    I believe it was in 2006 that VRG clarified its polling methodology to more specifically question specific food types of consumption (chicken, eggs, dairy, seafood and the like) to determine who fell into the vegan and vegetarian groupings. The numbers for those groups as percentages would be more meaningful if the polls since then were averaged to-date. We are still in the dark about the size of the practicing populations given the sampling error’s ratio (+/- 2%) to vegan/vegetarian practitioners (4%). In 2011, wasn’t the poll stating 5% of the US population “evenly” divided vegan/vegetarian? As I recall, there is also some rounding up and down of poll results. I would rather see the percentages carried out to three or four decimal points to compensate for the generalities we are now getting from comparable polls. After all, each percentage point represents millions of people.



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