People often use the terms “vegan” and “plant-based” interchangeably. But according to a recent report from market research and consulting firm Linkage Research, there are notable differences in consumers and who follow the diet. 

Popularity and adoption

The plant-based food market is exploding. Just over the last year, 13% more Americans report that it’s important to choose foods that are plant-based (16% in 2019 vs. 3% in 2018). 

And the sales projections reflect the booming popularity of the plant-based diet. UBS projects that the plant-based protein and meat alternatives market alone could expand from $4.5 billion to a massive $85 billion by 2030. Plant-based dairy alternatives sales are taking off too, and could reach $37.5 billion by 2025. 

Meanwhile, vegans account for 7% of the U.S. population. The global vegan food market size is projected to grow to $24.3 billion by 2026. 

Why people adopt these diets

Linkage Research says the driving motivators for people to choose a plant-based diet are generally health-related, while vegans may hold strong ethical convictions. 

Plant-based diet adoption motivators Vegan diet adoption motivators
  • Food allergies and sensitivities
  • Weight loss and maintenance
  • Blood pressure control
  • Belief that plant-based diets are better for your health
  • Specific health condition (vegan — health)
  • Strong belief in the ethical treatment of animals and the planet (vegan — ethical)

Diet adoption by age

Vegan diets are more popular with younger consumers — 60% of vegans are under 40. However, consumers who say eating plant-based foods is important span all ages, and they are significantly more prevalent in the 55+ age group than vegans. 

Age Plant-based Important Vegan — Ethical Vegan — Health
18-21 11% 15% 16%
22-25 9% 19% 18%
26-29 9% 13% 8%
30-38 15% 16% 20%
39-44 7% 15% 12%
45-54 15% 15% 14%
55-64 19% 5% 6%
65+ 15% 1% 7%

Diet adoption by demographic

  • 57% of health vegans are men
  • 54% of plant-based consumers are women
  • 50% of vegans are African-American and Hispanic 
  • Nearly 40% of plant-based consumers are African-American, Hispanic, or Asian

Claim acceptance rate and food choices

According to Linkage Research’s findings, it appears that among the three groups, consumers don’t accept vegan and plant-based claims at the same rate. Foods with plant-based claims are the clear crowd-pleasers.  

Reported purchase Plant-based Important Vegan — Ethical Vegan — Health
Plant-based meat, seafood, and dairy alternatives 71% 73% 68%
Food and beverages labeled “vegan” 38% 56% 43%

All three groups are buying more fresh fruit, vegetables, non-dairy substitutes, and meat substitutes than last year, which is helping drive overall plant-based food sales. 

Reported buying more of in the last year Plant-based Important Vegan — Ethical Vegan — Health
Fresh fruit 61% 63% 64%
Fresh vegetables 68% 65% 69%
Non-dairy substitutes 38% 41% 31%
Meat substitutes 37% 42% 30%

For more insight into vegan and plant-based consumers and trends, check out these articles.