VEGETARIANS and consumers eating less meat represent a growing market. Perhaps the most telling trend is that teenagers have more positive attitudes about vegetarianism than previous generations.
According to a survey last year by the Vegetarian Resources Group, the number of strict vegetarians has increased to 2.5% of the U.S. population, up from 1% in 1997.
The market for vegetarian foods is growing at supermarkets and restaurants. A recent survey of supermarket shoppers showed 22% of them purchased meat substitutes, up from 7% in 1992. Overall sales of vegetarian foods are estimated to have increased some 35% over the last five years.
About 19% of diners eating out will choose a restaurant based on whether it serves vegetarian meals. The growing popularity of ethnic foods, particularly Asian dishes, is largely driven by dietary and health-related concerns.
Only about 5 million Americans are strict vegetarians, but by some estimates 25% of the U.S. population are part-time vegetarians. Various subgroups include people who eat dairy products but no meat. Becoming a vegetarian is typically a gradual process with people eliminating red meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products from their diets.
Vegans, the most orthodox vegetarians, neither eat nor wear products from animals. This subgroup is mostly found in East Coast cities. Their numbers increased 270% since 1997 and now account for .09% of the U.S. population.
Some analysts predict motivation to become vegetarian may increase significantly by 2050 as a result of global environmental changes and overpopulation, compounded by unsustainable supplies and consumption of natural resources.
Between 20% and 25% of Americans periodically eat vegetarian meals, and 2.5% have exclusively vegetarian diets. Most live in large cities along the East or West Coasts. The Great Lakes region is home to the fewest vegetarians.
With the exception of blue-collar workers, people with incomes lower than $75,000 are more likely to be vegetarians than those who earn above $75,000 annually. Most vegetarians are college educated. An estimated 20% of college students are vegetarians, representing one of the fastest-growing market sectors.
Most vegetarians are between age 18 and 34, with women outnumbering men 2 to 1. Teenagers are becoming more interested in vegetarianism for moral or environmental reasons. Senior citizens concerned about heart disease, diabetes and hypertension are showing increasing interest in vegetarian foods.
Non-whites, especially Asians, are more likely to be vegetarians than Caucasians. About 8.1% of Asians and 3.5% of African Americans are vegetarians, compared with 1.6% of whites.
Diners eating out are ordering vegetarian meals more frequently. Restaurants report that 57% of diners either sometimes, often or always order vegetarian dishes. Only 5.5% of those eating out always order vegetarian meals, while 11.7% often order them. About 40.8% of diners sometimes request vegetarian cuisine.
Supermarkets are increasing shelf space for vegetarian foods. About 67% of stores sell soy milk and rice milk and 42% sell vegetarian hot dogs. A few years ago such products were rarely found outside of natural food stores.
Federal prisoners are four times more likely to eat vegetarian meals than the population at large. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons provides vegetarian meals at 98 prisons to 145,000 federal inmates (about 10% of them).
March 20 is the annual Great American Meatout, when vegetarian activists encourage people to stop eating foods made from animal ingredients. Most people become vegetarians for health reasons. The second most cited reason for vegetarianism involves animal rights. Others avoid meat because of environmental concerns.
Sources: International Vegetarian Union, Washington; Vegetarian Resource Group, Baltimore