Olive Oil Startup Kosterina Spills Into The Beauty Market With EVOO-Based Skincare Line


From: Forbes
By: Tanya Klich

While working as a VP at Walmart’s incubator, Mountanos founded Kosterina on the belief that high quality olive oil is a superfood and a key component for health and longevity.
When Katerina Mountanos was VP of brand incubation at Walmart, she would often walk the store aisles in search of inspiration. One day she cruised past the olive oil section, and noticed that all the packaging seemed to fall from the same tree.

“Nothing stood out to me, all the bottles either had that ancient Greek key pattern, Greek gods, or that single olive branch,” says Mountanos, whose family hails from the Southern Greek fishing village of Koroni. When it came to ingredients, most brands sold low-quality blends of processed oils. Mountanos began distilling her own idea, and in 2016, launched Kosterina as a side-hustle while still at Walmart.

The founder says Kosterina’s organic extra virgin olive oil has 8-10x more antioxidants than the average brand, and is made from 100% Koroneiki olives from southern Greece. Branding is inspired less by Greek mythology and more by the bright vistas of Mykonos and Santorini. Instead of dark olive green bottles, Mountanos went with Cycladic blues, limestone whites and hues that reflect the Aegean sea.

Her company is on a cold-pressed mission to revive the lost art and appreciation for olive oil as a superfood. According to Mountanos, a certified olive oil sommelier, olives must be harvested early while it is still rich in polyphenols. The natural antioxidant-rich compound unlocks the many health benefits associated with the food, including reduced risk of heart disease and better brain functionality. “What you find in the aisles in your supermarket is actually useless when it comes to taste and health,” she says.

Growing up, Mountanos watched her mother drizzle EVOO onto all their family dishes, as well as her face creams.

With brands like Brightland, Kyoord and Oracle also bringing premium olives and stylish packaging to the market, Mountanos aimed to differentiate her company by adding balsamic vinegars, dark chocolates and olive oil cakes to the mix. She’s now taking Kosterina beyond the food category with a new skincare line.

Greeks have a long history of stocking up on olive oil for their vanities just as much as they did for their kitchens.
Kosterina Beauty’s debut items, Extra Virgin Hydrating Face Oil and the Extra Virgin Hydrating Oil Balm, launch today. Both contain the same tasty high-antioxidant extra virgin olive oil, that also happens fights free-radical damage. It also features lachestim, a resortive oil from the sap of Mastic trees which grow only on the Greek Island of Chios; its restorative properties are known to boost collagen production in the skin.

“I’ve always been inspired by my Greek ancestors, most of whom lived to be over 90 and had the best skin and hair I’ve ever seen,” says Mountanos. “EVOO, and other Mediterranean superfoods like walnuts and honey filled with antioxidants, helped them glow from the inside out.”

The Kosterina Balm contains lachestim, an ancient remedy that has found its way into modern day skincare as an active ingredient, prized for its therapeutic and corrective benefits. KOSTERINA
Greeks and other people of the Mediterranean have a long history of using olive oil on skin and hair as a natural moisturizer. Mountanos hopes Kosterina foods and beauty products will encourage customers to adopt the daily lifestyle habits of the Blue Zones, areas of the world that have higher than average populations of centenarians, or people who live to be older than 100. Two of the world’s Blue Zones are in the Mediterranean, and researchers believe their longevity is rooted in their high-plant and high-EVOO diet, among other practices.

“They live life free of stress and toxins,” Mountanos. “They don’t spend hours in the gym, they enjoy wine and the occasional indulgence. In these regions, the presence of processed foods is also very low.”

Mountanos was previously cofounder and CEO of VC-backed Manicube, which brought manicures, pedicures and personal care services to corporate offices. Manicube reached more than 200 corporate clients before being acquired by Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spas.

“I’ve spent a large part of my career in the beauty industry and have come to learn that what we put on our faces and bodies in the name of beauty is making us less healthy and less beautiful because of toxic ingredients.”

She has worked in senior roles at ecommerce startups like Jet, which led her to Walmart after the acquisition. There she worked with Jet cofounder Marc Lore as well as Bonobos founder Andy Dunn, both of whom are investors in Kosterina. So far the company has raised $500,000 in pre-seed and $3.5 million seed funding.

In late 2019, Mountanos ran a Net Promoter Score, which simply asks customers, “How likely are you to recommend our product to a friend?” Kosterina achieved a perfect 100.

“Some of the most loved brands in the world like Apple, Nike, Costco and American Express have NPS scores in the 60s or 70s,” says Mountanos. “That’s what made me begin to think about Kosterina as a wellness brand that could create incredible, healthy products across a number of different categories.”

The NPS revelation led her to quit her corporate job and pursue Kosterina full-time in 2020, shortly before the pandemic. Due to global supply chain challenges, the company has not always operated like a well-oiled machine as she had to import her olive oil from Europe.

Meanwhile, her early attention to packaging would pay off. Kosterina’s social media accounts drew interest from top grocers, including Whole Foods, its top retail partner. “They messaged me on Instagram, and for a small brand like mine to get on their radar was a big deal,” says Mountanos. It is also available at Crate & Barrel, Food52 and gifting platforms like OnGoody.

The company is experiencing 300% YoY growth, a trajectory Mountanos says will continue as she enters new categories and expands her beauty line.

“We want to be the first brand to successfully cross both the food and beauty categories…,” says Mountanos. “There are brands that have crossed food and supplements and brands that have crossed supplements and beauty but, there is really no one offering both food and beauty products at scale under the same brand umbrella with the same ethos.”