How Many Vegetarians Are There?

The Vegetarian Resource Group Asked in a 2009 National Poll

With soymilk in most supermarkets and even Burger King carrying veggie burgers, it appears that the interest in vegetarian foods is much greater than it was 20, or even 10, years ago. In a Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG) poll in which we asked people if they order a dish without meat, fish, or fowl while eating out, more than 50 percent said sometimes, often, or always (2008 VRG Poll).

However, The VRG wanted to find out how many people are actually vegetarian. You may obtain different answers, depending on how a person defines vegetarian. The word now has a positive connotation, as many people who are not actually vegetarians call themselves vegetarians.

To find an estimate of the number of ‘true’ vegetarians, VRG commissioned Harris Interactive to conduct an online survey asking U.S. adults the following question:

Which of the following foods, if any, do you never eat?

Please select all that apply. I never eat...

  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Fish or seafood
  • Dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Honey
  • I sometimes eat all of these foods.
  • Don't know.

In the survey, 3 percent of U.S. adults indicated they never eat meat, poultry, and fish/seafood. They were classified as vegetarian. About one third of vegetarians, or one percent of U.S. adults, also never eat dairy, eggs, and honey and, therefore, were classified as vegan. Eight percent of respondents said they never eat meat.

Remember that, when marketing vegetarian and vegan foods, you also need to look at the much larger number of people interested in these items as well as those who are actually vegetarian. With 5 percent of females 18-34 being vegetarian and 12 percent of females 18- 34 not eating meat, this makes a strong statement for companies and restaurants to develop more meatless products and dishes for these consumers.

Based on this data, approximately 3 percent of the U.S. adult population is vegetarian. We can therefore estimate there are approximately 6-8 million adult vegetarians in the United States.


Adults in the United States Who Are Vegetarian
3% Total (rounded from 3.4%)
3% Male (rounded from 3.3%)
3% Female (rounded from 3.4%)
5% Female, ages 18-34 (rounded from 5.2%)
3% Northeast (rounded from 3.3%)
1% Midwest (rounded from 1.3%)
4% South (rounded from 3.5%)
5% West (rounded from 5.4%)
1% Vegan (0.8% never eat meat, fish, fowl, dairy, eggs, or honey)
1% Would be vegan except for honey (rounded from 1.3%)

Also, when looking at this data, we see that vegans appear to make up a high percentage of vegetarians. Vegans are often the activists who do promotion, so when developing new products, companies should keep these vegans in mind.


Adults in the United States Who Never Eat Meat
8% Total
11% West
12% Female, ages 18-34
9% Male, ages 18-34
15% Student

For additional vegetarian polls, see www.vrg.org/nutshell/faq.htm#poll.

Methodology

Harris Interactive® fielded the study on behalf of The Vegetarian Resource Group from May 1-5, 2009, via its QuickQuerySM online omnibus service, interviewing a nationwide sample of 2,397 U.S. adults aged 18 years and older. Data were weighted using propensity score weighting to be representative of the the total U.S. adult population on the basis of region, age within gender, education, household income, race/ethnicity, and propensity to be online.

Using traditional methods, with a pure probability sample of 2,397 adults, one could say with a 95 percent probability that the overall results have a sampling error of 2.7 percentage points. However, that does not take other sources of error into account. This online survey is not based on a probability sample, and therefore, no theoretical sampling error can be calculated. Nonprobability samples can still be representative of the population but cannot depend upon the rationale of probability theory.

About Harris Interactive®

Harris Interactive® is a global leader in custom market research. With a long and rich history in multimodal research that is powered by our science and technology, we assist clients in achieving business results. Harris Interactive® serves clients globally through our North American, European, and Asian offices and a network of independent market research firms. For more information, please visit www.harrisinteractive.com.