How Many Vegetarians Are There?

A 2003 national Harris Interactive survey question sponsored by The Vegetarian Resource Group

A look at the increased number of vegetarian products now available is evidence that the interest in vegetarian foods has exploded in the last few years. Burger King now offers a vegetable burger.* Most supermarkets carry soymilk and veggie alternatives to meats. We've even seen vegetarian "turkeys" in some stores.

By looking at various figures, VRG estimates that 30-40 percent of the country's consumers are a good market for meatless items. From 4-10 percent call themselves vegetarians.* But how many people are actually vegetarian? To find out the answer to this question, VRG over the years has asked in national polls: Please tell me which of the following foods, if any, you NEVER EAT: Meat, Poultry, Fish/Seafood, Dairy Products, Eggs, Honey.

In a 2003 Vegetarian Resource Group Harris Interactive survey, 2.8 percent of those surveyed said they never eat meat, poultry, or fish/seafood. A majority of the vegetarians said they never eat meat, poultry, fish/seafood, dairy products, eggs, or honey. Thus, over half the vegetarians can be classified as vegans. Because of the margin of error in polling, we don't believe these numbers should be taken literally. We feel, however, that they do reflect well with figures obtained from our previous polls.

When we asked the same poll question in a 2000 Zogby poll, about 1/3 of the vegetarians surveyed were vegan. The results are higher in this survey, although direct comparison should not be made. Because we've gotten this answer several times, we estimate 1/3-1/2 of vegetarians are vegan. This number may seem too high, but our theory is that most people who fit the definition of vegetarian (never eat meat, fish, or fowl) are "very committed to issues" and tend to become vegan. Vegans would be a much smaller percentage of those who self-define as vegetarian--that is, the people who think of themselves as vegetarian but may eat meat, fish, or poultry.

About 6 percent of the population said they never eat meat according to this Harris Interactive poll. This approximately matches results from our past polls. Ten percent of 25-34 year olds indicated they never eat meat. This seems high, but in 2000, 10 percent of 18-29 year olds gave the same answer. So it seems like there may have been a permanent change with this group. No wonder the food industry is concerned, and businesses/trade groups are either adding meatless options to their offerings, or spending money trying to reach young people with their message.

Some books or restaurants that mostly have vegetarian offerings include fish in order to attract a wider audience. Nevertheless, it's interesting to note that 4 percent of the population don't eat poultry and (red) meat. Of that 4 percent, 64 percent also don't eat fish. So, we wonder if, rather than offering fish, the restaurants could serve better vegetarian options or offer an ambiance that would appeal to non-vegetarians. Maybe the restaurants need to make money by adding fish, but would they actually gain many customers that they couldn't attract in other ways? We'd be interested to hear from restaurants about their experiences concerning this issue.


The U.S. 2000 census found that there are 209 million people 18 and older in the U.S. If we subtract 4 million institutionalized of all ages, based on 2.8 percent vegetarians, we calculate there are about 5.7 million adult vegetarians in the U.S. Again, this is only an estimate.

In 1994 and 1997, The VRG asked a similar question in a Roper Poll. The number of vegetarians then was about 1 percent, and the number of non-meat eaters was between 5 and 6 percent. We were told then, in future surveys, we could only be sure of a definite statistical movement if the percentages changed by 3 or more percentage points. Our jump to 2.8 percent cannot indicate a trend. In our 2000 national Zogby Poll of 968 adults, about 2.5 percent of the population was vegetarian. So, we have some evidence there has been some permanent movement; however, these differences still fall within the margin of error for each poll.

2003 Vegetarian Resource Group Harris Interactive Inc. Poll Results

(Figures are rounded.)

Please tell me which of the following foods, if any, you NEVER eat:
Honey 21%
Fish or seafood 13%
Eggs 7%
Meat 6%
Poultry 6%
Dairy products 6%
Meat and poultry 4%
Meat, poultry, fish, seafood 2.8%
Meat, poultry, fish, seafood, dairy products, eggs, honey 1.8%
NEVER eat meat, poultry, and fish/seafood (2.8% of total surveyed):
Male 2%
Female 3.6%
Age 18-24 2%
Age 25-34 5%
Age 35-44 2%
Age 45-54 3%
Northeastern U.S. 2%
Western U.S. 4%
White 3%
Black 4%
College graduate 4%
NEVER eat meat (6% of total surveyed):
Male 5%
Female 8%
Age 18-24 5%
Age 25-34 10%
Age 35-44 6%
Age 44-54 6%
Northeastern U.S. 8%
Western U.S. 10%
White 6%
Black 8%
Latino 5%
College graduate 8%

Harris Interactive survey methodology: Harris Interactive Inc. surveyed 1,031 adults 18 and older via telephone from February 6-9, 2003. In theory, with a probability sample of this size, one can say with 95 percent certainty that the results have a statistical precision of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points of what they would be if the entire adult population responded to each question with complete accuracy. The margin of error applies to the question asked of all respondents. This margin will vary within each category, such as gender, of respondents to the question.

Harris Interactive is a worldwide market research and consulting firm best known for The Harris Poll® and for pioneering the Internet method to conduct scientifically accurate market research. Headquartered in Rochester, New York, U.S.A., Harris Interactive combines proprietary methodologies and technology with expertise in predictive, custom, and strategic research. The Company conducts international research through wholly-owned subsidiaries--London-based HI Europe and Tokyo-based Harris Interactive Japan, as well as through the Harris Interactive Global Network of local market- and opinion-research firms, and various U.S. offices. EOE M/F/D/V