Vegetarians represent a small minority of the U.S. population, but their numbers have been increasing steadily, from about 1 percent in 1994 to 4 percent this year, according to a survey commissioned by the Vegetarian Resource Group, a Baltimore nonprofit. Restaurateurs have long capitalized on their demand, and chains such as Native Foods Café and Veggie Grill are thriving in cities like Boulder, Colo., Chicago, and Seattle. Meat and dairy-substitute brands including Morningstar Farms and Silk have cleaned up, too: U.S. consumers spent about $2.6 billion on soy foods and beverages in 2011, according to market researcher Mintel.
While restaurants and food products account for the bulk of businesses run by vegepreneurs, a growing number are starting other types of businesses that cater to the animal rights and environmental concerns of their peers, from fashion design to furniture manufacturing. (Most, perhaps not surprisingly, are in New York City.) Promoting a vegan product, rather than a love for shoes, sparked sisters Sara and Erica Kubersky to start MooShoes, the country’s first vegan shoe shop, in New York in 2001. “We were never big shoe people,” says Erica. “I mean, we like shoes as much as the next girl, but it was more of a vegan push for us.”