CHICAGO – Consumers following vegetarian or vegan diets in the US are fairly small in number, but the amount of consumers who are reducing their consumption of meat and poultry products is increasing. This information appears in an article in the November 2011 issue ofFood Technologymagazine, published by the Institute of Food Technologists.

Called flexitarians, these occasional vegetarians can be categorized as either semi-vegetarians or meat-reducers. Semi-vegetarians follow a vegetarian diet some times, but still eat some meat and dairy products. Meat-reducers do not follow a vegetarian diet, but try to cut back on the amount of meat they eat. As a result, manufacturers are increasingly targeting these groups with better-tasting products, attractive packaging and product variety, wrote Associate Editor Karen Nachay.

Large food manufacturers such as Kraft Foods, ConAgra Foods, General Mills and others have acquired smaller vegetarian food producers or introduced their own lines of vegetarian food products to meet demand coming from the increasing number of consumers practicing a flexitarian lifestyle.

There are more consumers today who are interested in eating healthier or want to reduce their meat intake without sacrificing taste. Improvements in processing technologies, food flavors and sauces make it possible for vegetarian food manufacturers to create foods with more meat-like textures, better flavor and convenience that are more appealing to flexitarian consumers, according to the article.

Until recently, soy and wheat protein were the primary proteins used in meat analogs. But due to the number of people who have soy and wheat protein allergies, vegetable proteins are being used as substitutes. Particularly popular in vegetarian restaurant items are beans and chickpeas.