The number of adults who say they eat four or more meatless meals a week grew to include nearly a quarter of American adults and boosted sales of vegetarian foods by 39.9 percent in 2001, according to The Vegetarian Resource Group and Mintel Consumer Intelligence.
Sales of vegetarian foods reached $1.25 billion in 2001, up from $893 million the year before, and Mintel analysts estimate the market could balloon to $2.8 billion by 2006, led by gains in refrigerated soymilk. Mintel defines vegetarian foods as items that replace meat or meat-related products—soymilk and textured vegetable protein, for example. Foods that may be vegetarian—such as shelf-stable macaroni and cheese, produce, rice and pasta—were excluded from the research.
As many as 48.2 million U.S. adults say they replace meat with meat alternatives for at least some meals, usually or sometimes maintain a vegetarian diet, or eat more than four meatless meals a week. Authors of a report that appears in the fourth-quarter edition of Vegetarian Journal suggest that product innovation is helping to spur these gains.
"The more vegetarian products there are on the menu, the less we are like a 'fringe' product than a great, healthy-tasting product for everyone," said David Wilson, general manager of Quorn Foods Inc. in Riverside, Conn., which makes a mycoprotein-based meat substitute.
Still, consumers typically cite health as the primary reason for selecting a veggie burger over a ground chuck patty. Debra Wasserman, co-coordinator of The Vegetarian Resource Group and managing editor of Vegetarian Journal, said the health issue that most often motivates people to adopt a vegetarian diet is diabetes.
"I think a lot of these products are just getting better and better tasting, which seems to be drawing in a lot of consumers," said Tracy Taylor, communications director for the National Nutritional Foods Association in Long Beach, Calif. "We're hearing all the time about the high obesity rates in the United States, and I think people are paying more attention to what they're eating."
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 11/p. 10