Vegan deli is a family affair

Trays of meat-free food substitutes inside an Exeter vegan deli.

In creating their meat-free favourites Heidi and Chloe concentrate on both texture and flavour. - Credit: Steve Haywood

Meet the family which has turned a successful plant-based foodie business into Exeter’s first vegan deli 

At the age of 11 Heidi decided she didn’t want to eat meat. That was fine, said her parents, but they laid down a challenge - saying she had to cook her own alternatives. 

So began Heidi Howarth’s culinary journey and now the 49-year-old has set up Exeter’s first vegan deli. How On Earth, a shop on the corner of South Street which stocks - among other things - a range of ‘meat free alternatives’, made by Heidi and her daughter Chloe. You can pop in for plant-based versions of deli and takeaway favourites, including southern fried chicken, BLTs, wafer-thin ham, salami or an American-style Reuben sandwich.  

The owners of How On Earth deli in Exeter holding trays of their food.

The deli has been so successful that Heidi and Chloe were joined by the rest of the family in their venture. - Credit: Steve Haywood

In creating their meat-free favourites Heidi and Chloe concentrate on both texture and flavour, and the results have been a huge success – even regular meat eaters choose their chicken-style products over normal chicken. 

The deli has been so successful that Heidi and Chloe were joined by the rest of the family in their venture. Dad Dan designed logos and became the deli’s sandwich and wrap-making supremo and son Ben (who has deferred his university place at Bath until next year) is in charge of finance and bookkeeping.  

Heidi became fully vegan about five years ago and the whole family has since joined her. 

Although Chloe and Ben were raised mainly on plant-based foods, Heidi was careful not to dictate or enforce a vegetarian or vegan diet. 

Chloe went with a vegan diet, but Ben always had a passion for cheese and dad Dan would eat some meat when they family went out to eat. Then, a couple of years ago, father and son did the Veganuary challenge and, after switching to a plant-based diet for the month of January, they never looked back. 

The owners of How On Earth deli in Exeter standing outside the premises.

The How On Earth deli is located on the corner of South Street in Exeter. - Credit: Steve Haywood

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The deli is the latest chapter in the How On Earth story, which began about five years ago. 

Chloe decided to create some ‘southern fried chicken’ for her brother’s birthday. She posted the result on social media and it brought masses of hits. She started selling it in Exeter’s Seasons shop and before long, the range was extending and they had started supplying the student Guild Shop at Exeter University as part of its ‘grab and go’ lunch range. 

The family found themselves tasked with preparing between 200-300 lunches – a big challenge considering that both Heidi and Dan were maintaining their careers as a children’s book author and illustrator respectively.  

But, says Heidi, being a freelance worker means “you’re always a bit of an entrepreneur, on the lookout for different opportunities”. 

Heidi has always loved baking (she narrowly missed being a contestant on The Great British Bake Off TV series) and being on a plant-based diet for so long has forced her to be inventive and cook all her meals from scratch – skills she’s passed on to her children. 

Finding alternatives to takeaway and processed meat products is about tapping into nostalgia and people’s habits, says Heidi. 

A man's hands close up holding a vegetarian wrap.

Finding alternatives to takeaway and processed meat products is about tapping into nostalgia and people’s habits, says Heidi. - Credit: Steve Haywood

“I still love the smell of a bacon sandwich, but I don’t want to eat it. So, we make something that mimics that response, and also the taste, without any cruelty.” 

They were approached by a major food manufacturer about reproducing another Howarth family favourite, Chloe’s turkey style dinosaur shapes – but they turned it down. 

In order to be mass-produced and have an extended shelf life, the product would have to include preservatives and would be changed too much, says Heidi, and that’s without the added plastic packaging issue.  

“We could have been rich and retired,” she says. “But we’re not doing this for the money, we do it because we enjoy it.” 

It goes without saying that the deli has a strong environmental and waste-free policy. Heidi is clearly delighted that any leftover products at the end of the day go to St Petrock’s, the city’s charity for the homeless. It turns out there are many people who may be vulnerable or in need, but who still want to be able to eat a meat-free diet. 

How On Earth means the family has the opportunity of showcasing a range of plant-based foods that most people may never have known existed. As well as their own home-made items they sell inventive and fabulous tasting products from makers across the South West, including cheese and meat alternatives. 

Heidi is excited by Exeter’s burgeoning vegan scene and is not surprised that they’ve been asked by local businesses to provide plant-based buffets for working lunches. 

Above all, “we want it to be inclusive”, she says. “We don’t want people to see the word ‘vegan’ and be put off, and it’s not about judging people for what they eat. We just want to offer people a choice.” 

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