With Target selling almond
and soy milk, Burger King carrying the Impossible Burger, and Dunkin offering
Beyond Sausage, it seems there is an explosion of interest in vegan foods.
However, The Vegetarian Resource Group wanted to know how many vegans there
In a national survey commissioned by VRG
and conducted online by The Harris Poll among more than 2,000 U.S. adults, we asked the following
question in 2016, 2019, and 2020.
Which of the following, if
any, best describes your eating behavior?
- I never eat meat, fish, seafood, poultry, dairy, or eggs.
- I never eat meat, fish, seafood, or poultry.
- I never eat meat, fish, seafood, poultry, dairy, or eggs when eating out or getting takeout, but eat one or more of these foods at home.
- I never eat meat, fish, seafood, or poultry when eating out or getting takeout, but eat one or more of these foods at home.
- When eating out or getting takeout, I sometimes eat meals without meat, fish, poultry, dairy, or eggs.
- When eating out or getting takeout, I sometimes eat meals without meat, fish, or poultry.
- None of these.
We considered those that
never eat meat, fish, seafood, or poultry; plus those that never eat meat,
fish, seafood, poultry, dairy, or eggs, as vegetarian. We classified that
second category of vegetarians who don’t eat dairy or eggs also 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. Be wary of
comparing to polls in other countries that ask if you are vegetarian or vegan,
since people may self define differently. We did not ask about honey.
More than half of the U.S. adult population (54%) always
or sometimes eats vegetarian (including vegan) meals when eating out. One
fourth (25%) of U.S.
adults always or sometimes eats vegan meals when eating out. Six percent of
American adults are vegetarian (including vegans) all the time, and half of the
vegetarians are also vegan (three percent of American adults).
Since fifty-four percent of the country
eats at least some vegetarian meals when eating out, and about half of those
are eating vegan meals, this has strong implications for food companies and
restaurants. There is substantial incentive for producing vegan dishes.
However, based on our other experiences outside this poll, it’s not enough just
to offer meatless items. Businesses have to cater to various needs, which may
include price, health, convenience, source of ingredients, taste, religious
requirements, etc. And since there is a large segment which did not say they
consume vegetarian meals, marketing is more complex because of such different
In another question within this poll we asked what is most important when making food choices. Americans say the top reasons are taste (57%), cost (38%) and health (36%). Among those who eat vegetarian and vegan meals, the most important reasons are taste (48%), health (42%), and cost (31%) in that order. For vegetarians (including vegans) top reasons are health (39%), animal welfare (31%), and taste (27%), followed by cost (24%), ethics (17%), and the environment (16%). So while taste, cost, and health seems to be important to everybody, a good number of vegetarians have the extra dimension of animal welfare when making food choices., The Vegetarian Resource Group often hears that people think vegetarian foods are expensive (though beans and grains can be good foods for those on a budget). Since cost is a top reason for non-vegetarians, to expand the market beyond current consumers, businesses may want to pay attention to the cost of their products or meals.
Looking at those who eat vegetarian and vegan by gender doesn’t reveal many differences. Women and men are equally as likely to sometimes or always have vegan meals when eating out (25% each). Three percent of women are vegan, while two percent of men are vegan. One difference across gender is among vegetarians, not including vegans, where women are significantly more likely than men to be vegetarian (4% vs. 2% respectively).
Those in the West (60%) are more likely than those in the Midwest (49%) and South (53%) to always or sometimes eat vegetarian meals (including vegan) when eating out. What’s interesting is that about the same percentage of people are vegetarian (including vegans) in all parts of the country (5% in the North East and 6% in the South, Midwest and West respectively), but as the West has a higher percentage of people eating vegetarian meals out than the Midwest and South, people might think there are more vegetarians there.
Fifty six percent of Democrats, 53% of Republicans, and 54% of Independents always or sometimes eat vegetarian meals. With the seeming great divide in the country by political leanings, perhaps we’re really much more alike than different when it comes to food. So maybe here is some common ground. The type of location you live in may have a little more of an impact with 28% of urban dwellers being more likely to say they sometimes or always consume vegan meals when eating out, compared to only 20% of rural individuals. Yet there is not as much difference as people might expect.
When we asked about decisions where ethics were a consideration, 45% of Americans said when making decisions about food, ethics is a least one consideration, and 64% of vegetarians (including vegans) said the same.
A strong point of interest for marketers and business people could be that a whopping 70% of 18-34 year olds and 65% of 35-44 year olds always/sometimes eat vegetarian (including vegan) meals when eating out, compared to 51% of those ages 45-54, 43% of those ages 55-64, and 34% of those ages 65 plus. Likewise, 67% of parents with children under 18 always/sometimes eat vegetarian (including vegan) meals when eating out, compared to 49% of those who do not have children under 18. Thirty three percent of 18-44 year olds always or sometimes eat vegan meals when eating out, compared to just 18% of those ages 45+. If this continues] as these 18-44 year olds become older, restaurants and food manufacturers are wise to be preparing for these changes.
- 6% Vegetarian (Including Vegans) (Never eats meat, fish, seafood, or poultry)
- 3% Vegan (Never eats meat, fish, seafood, poultry, dairy, or eggs)
- 25% Sometimes or always eats Vegan Meals When Eating Out
- 54% Sometimes or always eats Vegetarian Meals (including vegan) When Eating Out
- 3% I never eat meat, fish, seafood, poultry, dairy, or eggs when eating out or getting takeout, but eat one or more of these foods at home.
- 3% I never eat meat, fish, seafood, or poultry when eating out or getting takeout, but eat one or more of these foods at home.
- 20% When eating out or getting takeout, I sometimes eat meals without meat, fish, poultry, dairy, or eggs.
- 23% When eating out or getting takeout, I sometimes eat meals without meat, fish, or poultry.
- 46% None of these
Estimating about 254 million adults in the U.S (https://www.census.gov/quickfacts), 54% sometimes or always eating vegetarian (including vegan) when eating out would be 137.2 million interested adults. Twenty-five percent sometimes or always eating vegan meals when eating out would be 63.5 million interested American adults. Six percent vegetarians (including vegans) would be 15.2 million adults using the historical American vegetarian movement definition, with half of those being vegan. Vegetarians do not use meat, fish, seafood or poultry. Vegans are vegetarians who also don’t use other animal products such as dairy or eggs. For more information on vegetarian and vegan polls and numbers see: https://www.vrg.org/nutshell/faq.htm#poll
25% of U.S. adults eating vegan meals
sometimes or all the time when eating out is an amazing change from when
earlier surveys indicated one percent of the population said they were vegetarian
and still included people who ate meat**; almost nobody knew what the word
vegan meant; and you had to order powdered soy milk through the mail, as it
wasn’t available in supermarkets.
For other polls, see: https://www.vrg.org/nutshell/faq.htm#adult
** In a 1977-1978 United
States Department of Agriculture Food Consumption Survey, of 37,135 people
surveyed, 1.2% answered yes to “Are you a vegetarian?” However, some of these
people also reported eating flesh during the three days on which dietary
information was obtained. In VRG’s 1994 poll, with a different methodology than
the current polls, we found that up to one percent of American adults could be
vegetarian, with maybe up to twenty percent of those vegetarians being vegan.
This survey was conducted
online within the United States
by The Harris Poll on behalf of The Vegetarian Resource Group from
June 22-24, 2020 among 2,074 U.S.
adults ages 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability
sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be
calculated. For complete survey methodology,
please contact [email protected]. Please
note that this poll was taken during the Covid19 pandemic. We do not know what
influence, if any, that may have had on the survey answers.
More information from this poll is still to be posted.
For other poll information, see https://www.vrg.org/nutshell/faq.htm#adult