Growing Up in ‘Olive Country’
Katina says she came to appreciate olive oil because of her upbringing. “My family actually comes from a small town in southern Greece … and so I grew up in olive country,” she says. “I … knew what good olive oil tasted like. And so the company really came to be because as I started a family and started cooking more at home, I realized that the Greek extra virgin or Italian extra virgin in the supermarket tasted absolutely nothing like what my family made and enjoyed in southern Greece. It really started from a taste standpoint, and I became obsessed with finding good olive oil here in the US, and it was actually very hard to find. And when I did find it, it was quite expensive.”
Katina decided to take an “olive oil sommelier course” to learn more about olive oil and what makes it so healthy, as well as what can degrade its health benefits. “There's a big difference between olive oil and extra-virgin olive oil,” she says. “Extra virgin just means that it's the first press of the olive, and it's sort of the purest form. But there's an even bigger difference between extra virgin olive oil and what I now know to be early-harvest extra virgin olive oil. And so when harvested early and milled properly, you can actually preserve the natural antioxidants that occur in the olive.”
Kosterina previously co-founded a health and beauty services company called Manicube, which provided a wealth of valuable experience that translated well to Kosterina.
“It was my first startup, it was my first time as a co-founder, and I learned so much,” she says. “It was the first time that I was managing a PR agency. It was the first time that I was hiring a marketing ads agency. It was the first time that I was doing accounting. I had studied accounting, but it was the first time really touching a number of different functions … And so I learned an incredible amount and could not have done it without my co-founder at that time.”
She also decided after running Manicube for a while that her next company would not be a services business. “I think what was difficult about Manicube was that it was, of course, all services,” she says. “... You relied a lot on people. So we had to get the right people to the right place at the right time with the right things. And that was an operational challenge, and it became very difficult at the end, and it was harder to scale.”
Selling a product, Katina says, was more up her alley. “It just seems more simple. And I really kind of landed on Kosterina just through my personal interest. [I started] Kosterina as a passion project.”
Finding High-Quality Olive Oil
Unfortunately, even if you think you’re buying true extra-virgin, early-harvested olive oil, chances are you’re not. That’s because most manufacturers commit two cardinal sins: They let the product sit for too long and store it in plastic containers that admit light. Both of these practices can drain the olive oil antioxidants, Kosterina says.
By contrast, Kosterina’s olive oil doesn’t sit on the shelf for a long time or get exposed to light. Moreover, it’s actually true to the label, being both extra virgin and early harvested. The company’s product is “centered around very high-antioxidant, extra virgin olive oil from Greece, but more broadly focused on the Mediterranean lifestyle,” she says. Koserina sells other products like balsamic vinegars, fruit vinegars, skincare products, and dark chocolate it makes itself, but olive oil is its flagship offering.
Kosterina isn’t sitting on its laurels and plans to expand its product line, but only where it makes sense for the brand. “We will be continuing to expand the line very thoughtfully, all centered around Mediterranean diet and lifestyle,” she says. “And then, from a distribution standpoint, we will be looking to expand to a very select group of grocery stores that we feel are the right brand fit for us. We do want people to be able to find Kosterina wherever they are shopping for food. We do have a pretty significant direct-to-consumer ecommerce business, but we know that people are most of the time buying their olive oil when they're buying their tomatoes and salad produce. And so we do want to be in more grocery stores. And so that'll be a key next goal for us.”