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There are two published surveys of the percentage of adult vegans in 2016, both based on face-to-face interviewing of a sample selected to be representative of the general population (the most reliable method).
One survey, organised by The Vegan Society with Ipsos MORI, reported that the percentage of people in Great Britain who stated that they ate no animal products (dietary vegans) was 1.05%.

The other, the Food & You Survey organised by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) with the National Centre for Social Science Research (NatCen), reported that the percentage of people in England, Wales and N. Ireland who described themselves as vegan was 0.46%.
The questions used were very different:

Food & You Survey question

Which, if any, of the following applies to you? Please state all that apply.
1) Completely vegetarian, 2) Partly vegetarian, 3) Vegan, 4) Avoid certain food for religious or cultural reasons, 5) None

Vegan Society survey questions

How often, if at all, do you personally eat any form of meat, fish or shellfish? This includes all forms and types of meat, fish or shellfish and dishes that contain these, even in small amounts.
How often, if at all, do you personally consume any animal products other than meat, fish or shellfish? This includes any products produced from animals, such as milk, cheese, eggs, honey, gelatines, fish oils, etc.


In both cases, the possible answers were: 1) Every day, 2) Every 2-3 days, 3) Every 4-5 days, 4) About once a week, 5) Every 2-3 weeks, 6) About once a month, 7) Less often than once a month, 8) Never
People answering never to both questions were counted as dietary vegans. 

Results

In the case of the Food & You Survey, previous figures for similar questions had shown values averaging about 0.25%.

  2010 2012 2014 2016
Vegetarian but not vegan 3.24 2.41 2.32 3.44
Vegan  0.23 0.30 0.24 0.46

Those 2010-2014 results are consistent with The Vegan Society’s earlier estimate, published in 2009, that about 0.25% of the population were vegan. This earlier estimate was based mainly on similar questions asked as part of the annual FSA Consumer Attitudes Survey from 2000 to 2007.

There were many possible reasons for the difference between the two 2016 survey estimates (0.46% and 1.05%). Chance could plausibly have accounted for much of the difference, as the Food & You Survey was relatively small. Some people might eat a diet with no animal products but not describe themselves as vegan. Some people might have answered the questions inaccurately. The surveys might have hidden biases in the selection of the participants despite efforts to minimise this.

There has been a continuing increase in interest in veganism since 2016, so we wanted to find out how the number of vegans had changed since then. We also wanted to understand the differences between the two 2016 surveys so as to get a clearer picture of the number of vegans.

We therefore commissioned another survey through Ipsos MORI in which about 2000 people were asked both the Vegan Society questions and the Food & You question. The results showed a doubling of the number of vegans between 2016 and 2018: from 0.46% to 1.16% for the Food & You question and from 1.05% to 2.19% for The Vegan Society’s questions.

As in 2016, The Vegan Society’s questions gave a higher result. To understand this difference, all those who gave inconsistent answers were invited to explain the reasons and their responses were recorded by Ipsos MORI.
Based on the society’s questions, 39 people were dietary vegans but only 19 of these described themselves as vegan in response to the Food & You question. Of the 20 mismatches, the follow-up responses showed that 11 were definitely not following a vegan diet (typically referring to consuming eggs or dairy) while 1 definitely was objectively vegan and 8 responses did not allow a clear conclusion. To our surprise, the society’s 2016 questions seemed more likely to misclassify some non-vegan vegetarians as vegan than to identify people who followed a vegan diet but did not describe themselves as vegan.

Based on the Food & You question, 22 people were vegan and 19 of these were also vegan based on the society’s questions. Of the 3 mismatches, 1 was shown by the follow-up responses not to be vegan (ate shellfish very occasionally) and the other 2 responses did not allow a clear conclusion. The Food & You question is clearly more accurate overall though it does miss some people who follow a vegan diet and include some who do not. As well as proving to be more accurate, it is more consistent with earlier survey questions allowing more reliable comparisons with the past.

Based on the Food & You survey question, the number of vegans in Great Britain has doubled twice in the past four years: from 0.25% up to 2014 to 0.46% in 2016 to 1.16% in 2018: about 600,000 adults.

Veganism is growing rapidly, and we will continue to work with the help of all our members to sustain this growth and create a better world.

Other estimates of the number of vegans in the UK in 2018

Two online surveys in 2018 have estimated the number of vegans. The first, by comparethemarket.com, based on a sample of 2000 people found 7% of the population to be vegan. The other, by RSPCA Assured, based on a sample of 3000 people found 0.3% of the population to be vegan. These estimates differ from our 2018 survey far more than would be expected by chance, and in totally opposite directions.

The survey that found 7% vegans also estimated that there were more than one and a half million electric cars in the UK. This is about ten times the number of plug-in vehicles (fully electric or hybrid) registered by the Department for Transport in the UK. So something went seriously wrong with
that survey. We contacted comparethemarket.com to see if they would like to comment, and received no response.
Surveys can go wrong in many ways, but the most likely explanation for the wildly different results in those two is the difficulty of ensuring a representative sample in on-line surveys: the cross-section of people who choose to take part in a particular online survey may be fundamentally different from the general population.

To get a reliable result, we need always to:

1) Ensure that the sample is as representative as possible of the population being surveyed
2) Double-check the clarity and reliability of the questions.

Acknowledgements

Our thanks to Che Green and Jo Anderson of Faunalytics for helpful advice when we were preparing this survey and to Beverley Bates of NatCen for clarification of the Food & You survey.

Thanks also to Tom Magill and Nick Philp of Ipsos Mori for their work on the design and execution of the survey.