From Greek Roots to a Global Brand and How to Pick the Right Olive Oil
From Greek Roots to a Global Brand and How to Pick the Right Olive Oil

"We truly think of Kosterina as a wellness lifestyle brand and we want to be able to touch people across many different categories in the way that the Mediterranean lifestyle really does that in so many different aspects of life." 

- Katerina Mountanos

Elizabeth welcomes Katerina Mountanos, founder and CEO of Kosterina, a modern Mediterranean lifestyle brand centered around high antioxidant extra virgin olive oil. In their conversation, Katerina talks about how her family's Greek roots shaped Kosterina, as well as her commitment to source the highest varieties of olives coming straight from southern Greece. Katerina discusses Kosterina's expansion into skincare, probiotic olives, and even olive oil cake. She offers valuable advice on transitioning from a side hustle to a full-time pursuit, drawing on her experiences at global giants like L'Oreal. Plus, Katerina delves into embracing the Blue Zone lifestyle.

Discount: Use Code PURELY for 15% off at checkout on Kosterina’s website.


    Elizabeth Stein 0:00
    Hi, everyone. I'm Elizabeth Stein, founder, and CEO of Purely Elizabeth. And this is Live Purely with Elizabeth, featuring candid conversations about how to thrive on your wellness journey.

    This week's guest is Katerina Mountanos, founder and CEO of Kosterina, a modern Mediterranean lifestyle brand centered around high antioxidant, extra virgin olive oil from her native home in southern Greece. Prior to founding Kosterina, Katerina was a senior executive at Walmart and Amazon and spent her early career at L'Oreal and an investment banking at Citi Group. In this episode, we talk about Katerina’s path to launching Kosterina, some of the best lessons she learned from her earlier career that helped her today, what to look for when purchasing olive oil, like early harvest varieties. Why the polyphenols in olive oil play a key role in the Mediterranean diet for longevity, how she's creating a lifestyle brand inspired by the Blue Zones and some of her favorite wellness rituals. If you want to try her delicious olive oils, vinegars, innovative crushed fruit vinegars, natural olive oil base skincare line, and even a gluten free olive oil cake, head on over to and use code PURELY for 15% off. Enjoy.

    Katerina, welcome to the podcast. It's such a pleasure to have you. I'm so glad that we connected after being at Fancy Food Show this past summer. Excited to hear your story.

    Katerina Mountanos 1:47

    Yes, thank you so much for having me. I was thrilled to be just two or three booths down from you guys on Fancy Food.

    Elizabeth Stein 1:55
    Totally. And I've been a fan of your product, your packaging, and your brand. Excited to get into all that. But before we get in to product, would love to start off with your story and your journey. And what was the original inspiration for starting Kosterina?

    Katerina Mountanos 2:13
    Yeah, absolutely. I am Greek American and very Greek. Both my parents are from Greece, we travel to Greece pretty often because my mom worked for an airline. So, we flew for free. And every vacation that we had, my parents would just like get us on a plane. Both amazing. All their sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins, were still there. So, we were visiting family any chance we got. My dad is from a small town in southern Greece, which is basically in the center of the country. It's called Koroni. The variety of olives that grow throughout all of Greece is called Koroneiki, which means Koroni. So, that truly originates from my dad's hometown. That was the inspiration behind Kosterina. There are a lot more things that happened that inspired the launch of the company, but it was truly growing up in that place in the country understanding what good olive oil is, living that Mediterranean lifestyle, and eating the Mediterranean diet.

    That was the true inspiration behind the brand.

    Elizabeth Stein 3:16
    That's amazing. So many questions. Also, I'm sure that you're very into blue zones. You just triggered that. I started to watch the second or third episode of that on Netflix.

    Katerina Mountanos 3:31
    Yeah, I heard your episode with Dan Buettner, who also interviewed for the Kosterina platform. He's amazing. The brand is very inspired by the blue zones. Of course, five areas of the world have a higher-than-average population of centenarians, and two of them are in the Mediterranean. One is Ikaria, Greece, which is probably the third episode that you watch. The first half of that episode covers Ikaria. It's just gorgeous. You understand just how these people live. And I think what I've been trying to do a lot in Kosterina is trying to blend all the hardback science and biohacking with what we've learned from the Blue Zones, because they are very, very different, although there's some overlap. For example, I follow people like Peter Attia and Huberman, who I would call the scientific longevity doctors in the biohacking community, and pairing that with the blue zones is such an interesting meld of two very different ways of life that have the same goal which is longevity.

    Elizabeth Stein 4:35
    Totally. Witnessing, growing up going to Greece all the time, how did you witness their way of life and how that's coming across in Blue Zones and all those identity aspects?

    Katerina Mountanos 4:51
    It was definitely what you see in the Netflix Live to 100 series. My grandfather was a fisherman. He would bring fresh fish back every day. My grandmother would cook it with olive oil, lemon, vegetables, and wild greens that she would pick from the side of a mountain. It was just so simple and no one's going to the gym and pumping iron.

    Elizabeth Stein 5:15
    No one's wearing their Oura ring and making…

    Katerina Mountanos 5:20
    Definitely. That Blue Zone lifestyle and lots of community and purpose and people helping each other, lots of religion, going to the church for every single holiday. I think that faith also gives people longevity. It all contributes.

    Elizabeth Stein 5:39
    You’ve been in Greece your whole life, you've been enjoying this amazing olive oil. You're here. And there were some aha, that the olive oil that you were tasting here was not the authentic olive oil that you had tasted. What was ultimately the catalyst for you to want to start this brand? What were you doing before starting Kosterina?

    Katerina Mountanos 6:04
    Yeah, it was really when I got married and started a family so I started cooking more at home that I realized that the Greek extroversion that I was finding in the supermarket tasted nothing like what my family made. In southern Greece, we do have a small olive farm, but not enough to support the company today. But that was the impetus. We always brought it from Greece in these large glass crafts. When I realized that the taste was different, I just became obsessed with finding good olive oil in the US. And I ended up signing up for this olive oil sommelier course based here in New York.

    Elizabeth Stein 6:34
    How cool is that? What is an olive oil sommelier class?

    Katerina Mountanos 6:36
    It's a thing. It's not nearly as in-depth as a wine sommelier. There is a special course where you can learn about all the different varietals of olive oil, you learn how to taste good olive oil and be able to decipher what is good olive oil and low-quality olive oil. I can give you a few tricks if you're interested. It's always a good dinner party conversation.

    Elizabeth Stein 6:57
    Tell us a few tricks right now.

    Katerina Mountanos 6:58
    Yeah, sure. And then I think the other main thing I learned was the health benefits, which inspired the company. Quick tricks, there are a few tricks that you want to use when you're shopping for all below the supermarket, and then a few tricks you want to use when you have it at home and you're tasting and smelling it. In the supermarket, you want to look for a glass opaque bottle, never anything clear and never anything plastic. Clear lets light in and it degrades the quality of the olive oil. Plastic olive oil can be corrosive to plastic, so you end up with microplastics in your olive oil. You never want that type of packaging. The second thing is you want to look for a harvest date on the bottle and make sure it's from the most fresh harvest. Sometimes you can end up with olive oils on the shelf from three or four harvests ago, in which case, it's just not fresh and not as potent anymore.

    Elizabeth Stein 7:44
    Would that be within the year you want to look for that date?

    Katerina Mountanos 7:49
    Usually, you want to buy within 18 months of the harvest. Olive oil will still be very potent within two years from harvest. But if you're buying it at the 18-month mark, then you have a few months to use it. I think the other thing you want to look for on the bottle is a single origin. Usually, you want it to just be from one country. Sometimes olive oil companies will buy up remnant olive oils from all over the world, and blend them. They get bottled in Italy and sold as Italian extra virgin, I would avoid anything that's a mix, and look for early harvest. That brings me to the health benefits that I learned in this olive oil sommelier course which I'll come back to. But once you have it at home, the big trick is you want to pour olive oil into a glass and bring it to your nose after swirling it around a little as you would do for wine. You take a big inhale and you want to get grass green, tomato vegetables, and flowers, it should smell like something fresh. You'll be able to decipher the smell of rancid olive oil and very fresh olive oil that way. But the telltale sign of good olive oil is when you sip it, you should get a slight burn at the back of your throat. Those polyphenols are incredibly healthy antioxidants and contribute to longevity.

    Elizabeth Stein 9:03
    Those are some great tips. Amazing.

    Katerina Mountanos 9:07
    All good to know. And so when I was in this olive oil sommelier course, I learned about the polyphenols in extra virgin olive oil. Polyphenols are essentially antioxidants, and they fight against inflammation. Olives that are stressed when they are grown, olive trees often don't get a lot of water. They grow in very dry, arid climates. They produce these antioxidants to protect themselves. When we consume those antioxidants, they protect us and they're anti-inflammatory. There are hundreds of studies, and I would say, it's undisputed that these types of polyphenols can reduce the risk of all chronic diseases, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's, and heart disease. I was just blown away by the science. I'll give you a two-minute story of the research that discovered some of these polyphenols. There's a researcher named Gary Beauchamp. He was a researcher who was taking uncoated ibuprofen. He went to Italy for a conference and ended up having French olive oil right off the tree. He tasted the olive oil, and it gave him the same burn in the back of his throat as the uncoded ibuprofen that he was taking for research. And he brought the olive oil back to his team and had them taste it. His lead researcher said to him, “Why did you put ibuprofen in the olive oil?” And he was like, “I didn't.” They discovered these compounds that act like manmade ibuprofen, but come in this very natural, organic way.

    Elizabeth Stein 10:42
    That's so cool. I love that story.

    Katerina Mountanos 10:45
    Yeah. It’s cool. I just felt like the Greeks have known the power of olive oil forever. And I wanted the US consumer to learn about this as well.

    Elizabeth Stein 10:52
    So what were you doing in your career before starting this? Because it's a whole big thing to leap into this. What were you doing?

    Katerina Mountanos 11:03
    Yeah, it was a big shift. My career has been focused on finance, but also on retail and e-commerce. I spent four years in investment banking in New York and London. I then went back to get my MBA. After that, I worked for L'Oreal, really living in the CPG space, and I was doing new brand development for L'Oreal before jumping into startups. It was after that L'Oreal experience that I fell in love with startups. I worked at a company called Quidsi, which was sold to Amazon. Then I worked for Jet. I was an early employee at Jet which was sold to Walmart, both times working for a very iconic New York founder and mentor of mine named Marc Lore. In between those two e-commerce experiences, I started my first startup, which was called Manicube. We did manicures and chair massages in corporate offices. Very different world from today, where people go to an office every day from eight to six. But that was an amazing experience as a first-time entrepreneur.

    Elizabeth Stein 12:05
    What would you say were some of the lessons that you learned through each of those steps in your career? We could have an entire podcast about each experience, but what were some of those lessons you learned along the way that helped you to start this business and gave you the courage to try something new?

    Katerina Mountanos 12:28
    Yeah, a few things. I think my experience in my MBA program where I saw female entrepreneurs, doing what I always dreamed of allowed me to see it to see that I could be it. That was the first step. Then at L'Oreal, I realized I love CPG and love thinking about the consumer. Before that, I was in big finance. I never really thought about the end consumer, it was really all financial engineering. This is my first time saying like, what makes someone want a product, what makes the product good. L'Oreal, I think is one of the best brands to teach you that in a formal way. Then my experiences at Quidsi and Jet made me fall in love with startups, it was just so fast-moving. I've mentioned this before, but I remember the first day I walked into my boss's office, I covered the beauty category. I said, “I'm thinking of reaching out to these brands, what do you think?” And she said, “Why are you asking me?” I was like, oh, my God, I can just go ahead and do this. I don't need permission, and I don't need approvals. That was just incredibly exciting and so much more fun. So really fell in love with the startup life, but both of the companies I was working for, actually all three in a row got acquired. So I was in big companies again and just wanted to go back to small brand life.

    Elizabeth Stein 13:47
    And then how about when you started your own company and had that first experience with Manicube?

    Katerina Mountanos 13:54
    Yeah, I had a co-founder at the time, which was an incredible experience. We started it together, we were learning on the fly. I never managed things like marketing or PR, operations, hiring, HR, legal. You just learn. It's a crash course in every function if you will. That was incredibly valuable to launching Kosterina for sure. In my final experience right before launching Kosterina, after the acquisition of Walmart, I started talking to our founder Marc Lore about starting an internal incubator, where we would launch brands that were owned by Walmart but also sold directly to consumers online. It was just the way the world was going, those D2C brands were so cool they wouldn't sell to retailers like WalMart at the time. Now that whole environment is very different. But it was just an amazing crash course in launching a brand and how you do that online but how you also have to be omnichannel. D2C is not a business model anymore. It's just a channel. So I think learned all of that firsthand across those experiences.

    Elizabeth Stein 14:58
    So many. So when you ultimately decided that you wanted to launch your brand, your second startup, for you, was that a space where you were like, okay, I have this idea. And I'm just gonna go for it without fear because I've had so much experience? Or were you going through as you started to launch the brand?

    Katerina Mountanos 15:22
    Yeah, it was the opposite of what you just described, I envy people who can do that. I launched Kosterina as a passion project first while I was in my full-time role. I identified the producers that I wanted to work with, I have a partner in Greece, who helped me with the bottle and all the operations in Athens. I launched the company to 200 people who were in my Gmail inbox on a Squarespace site that I put up. It just began to grow organically from there, it was something that I hoped would become something that would warrant my full-time focus. But I wasn't sure if it would. What happened was friends started to tell other friends. That first year, I thought of every email address in Shopify or SquareSpace I knew, and all of a sudden, I started to see names that I didn't recognize. Two turning points made me realize that I could leave my full-time role to focus on this. One was I ran an NPS survey. It was a small customer base. But the NPS score came back at 100.

    Elizabeth Stein 16:25
    Amazingly, you knew what an NPS score was. Most founding entrepreneurs have no idea. Maybe just share for people who don't know, what is an NPS score.

    Katerina Mountanos 16:35
    Yeah, so NPS is a measure of how likely your customer is to recommend you to friends or family. It stands for Net Promoter Score. I remember in previous jobs, we would be super happy if our NPS was in the 50s or 60s. It was a small customer base, I think probably 50 people responded to that survey. But to have everyone be a promoter, which would mean that they're 9 or 10, likely to recommend you to family or friends, I was like, wow, people do love this product. And they're buying it again and again and the loyalty is there. That was one impetus. And then the second amazing thing that happened was Whole Foods reached out. They found us on Instagram, “We're interested in our olive oil.” And I was like, oh, wow. First of all, I can't sell to Whole Foods and be an employee somewhere else. That was one major turning point for deciding to focus on it full-time, but also just so exciting to be able to put it on the shelf for 500 stores and all those customers.

    Elizabeth Stein 17:31
    Wow, that's amazing. What was the time then from when Whole Foods reached out to you quitting your job and getting into Whole Foods? And it sounds like you got to nationally right away.

    Katerina Mountanos 17:42
    Yeah, it was the national buyer that had reached out but we didn't have the supply to support a national launch. I asked if we could do three regions at first, and then we could expand the following year. That's what we worked up to. It was probably a six-month process. Because once they reached out, there were a few conversations. Then there was the line review. The products hit the shelves several months after that.

    Elizabeth Stein 18:06
    That's amazing. So as you talked about having enough supply, let's talk a little bit about where you're sourcing. You mentioned that you have a partner in Greece. How do you go about sourcing? You said you can source all of it from your family farm. So, what does that look like? And how has that process been as you've grown?

    Katerina Mountanos 18:25
    Yeah, we source from all over southern Greece, which is where I'm from. We only source one variety of olive oil called Koroneiki, the one that originates from my hometown, just because that's the one that I think tastes the best. It also happens to be very naturally high in polyphenol content. However we work with several partner farms in southern Greece that meet our parameters, which are high polyphenol content, all organic farming methods, and Koroneiki olive oil. My operations manager in Athens is someone who helped me with some of these relationships and met those producers. And so we did that first tour and met producers. Every harvest, we go back and we meet new producers so that we're ready as we grow, and bring on additional supply. I think eventually, we'll source from all over Greece. We do think of ourselves as a Mediterranean brand. So as we grow, we can go to lesser places like Italy and Spain. I'm joking. The olive oil there is amazing. But yeah, we can source from other countries in the Mediterranean as well.

    Elizabeth Stein 19:27
    As you mentioned, just about the quality of olive oils and where you're sourcing from, can you touch a little bit upon some misconceptions about olive oil because I think there's a lot of that like hidden bad oils that are happening in the olive oil industry? Just to shed light on that.

    Katerina Mountanos 19:44
    Yeah. Unfortunately, there is a lot of fraud in the industry. There was a study done 13 years ago in 2010 by UC Davis that showed that 69% of all olive oils on shelves that said they were extra virgin were not, which meant that they were either rancid and therefore didn't qualify to be extra virgin or that they were cut with something else. They would put other oils like seed oils, which are much cheaper, vegetable oils, and sometimes chlorophyll to make the color change. They just weren't pure extra virgin olive oil and therefore didn't have all those health benefits that a true extra virgin olive oil would have. There are a lot of companies that will like I said, buy up remnant oils from all over the world from previous harvests and blend them. The healthiest oil does come from a single source and a single variety, just so you know what you're getting. There's just a lot of like trying to get to the lowest price possible. Unfortunately, olive oil has been a commodity category for a long time, and people just buy the cheapest one or the private label. That's why the quality of olive oil in this country has been so poor.

    Katerina Mountanos 20:51
    That's super helpful. In addition to olive oil, you also are selling some amazing vinegar, some skincare, and this cake, which I didn't realize you were selling this olive oil cake. I was on your site last night and was like, oh, I gotta buy this cake. Let's talk about some of your other product lines and how you got into those as well.

    Katerina Mountanos 21:16
    Yeah. We truly think of Kosterina as a wellness lifestyle brand. We want to be able to touch people across many different categories in the way that the Mediterranean lifestyle does fan so many different aspects of life. After the original extra virgin olive oil, which is the white bottle of olive oil launched, we decided to launch flavored olive oil. We have garlic, a Greek herb lemon, and a spicy olive oil, in addition to what we call our everyday day, which is the olive oil that we recommend for cooking and baking because it's slightly later harvest, which allows us to get to a more accessible price point. One other fun olive oil fact is that when you squeeze an unripe olive, like an early harvest olive, not a lot of juice comes out. That's what makes it more expensive. You need 12 pounds of olives to make one bottle of this type of olive oil. So if you wait slightly later harvests and they're more ripe, more juice comes out. So you can still get very high polyphenol content olive oil but at a more accessible price. That's what we did with the blue bottle. Our line of vinegars is all authentic vinegars from Italy and Greece. We have three balsamic. Then we have these three crushed groups vinegar and the smaller bottles. Those are fun. Those were a response to the trend of drinking vinegar for blood sugar regulation purposes. They're all made with white, balsamic, and white wine vinegar, and they're sweetened with fresh fruit. So, you can put them into a seltzer or use them as a cocktail mixer in addition to salad dressings and things like that. Our skincare originated because olive oil has been used on skin and hair in the Mediterranean forever, literally 1000s of years. It's deemed like the safest and most efficacious moisturizer, it has healing properties. So we just wanted to create this basic line of very clean skincare leveraging olive oil for hydration and antioxidant protection.

    Elizabeth Stein 23:11
    What are your favorite skincare products?

    Katerina Mountanos 23:13
    It's the newest one. It might be recency bias, but I love our body oil. Our body oil smells amazing. It gets absorbed by your skin super fast. And if you put it on right out of the shower, you'll just be moisturized all day and you have a little bit of that Greek glow, which I love.

    Elizabeth Stein 23:29
    Love it. And what's your most popular flavored olive oil?

    Katerina Mountanos 23:35
    Garlic is popular. I would say the spicy is a cult favorite. People who love spicy food, love the spicy olive oil.

    Elizabeth Stein 23:43
    And have a favorite vinegar.

    Katerina Mountanos 23:46
    That's a tough one. I love our original balsamic that goes on every salad. For cocktail mixers, I love our tangerine crushed fruit vinegar. Casamigos, tangerine, vinegar and Seltzer.

    Elizabeth Stein 23:58
    That sounds amazing. All right, we have to do that. Okay, and then the cake. Where do they come from?

    Katerina Mountanos 24:04
    Yes, since you asked about the cake, the reason we make our extra virgin olive oil cake is because we want to teach people that baking and cooking with olive oil is delicious and so much healthier. It's the whole impetus behind it. It's not like we're trying to be a baking company. Olive oil cake is so delicious. And this cake in particular is just moist and delicious. It's not too sweet. And it's the perfect bring-to-a-dinner party gift or have with your afternoon coffee.

    Elizabeth Stein 24:32
    Gotta get it. Sounds delicious.

    Katerina Mountanos 24:34
    We're happy to send you one. I'd love to send you one.

    Elizabeth Stein 24:37
    as you talk about the brand being this wellness lifestyle platform, for yourself, have you always been into health and wellness and how is that infused into your life?

    Katerina Mountanos 24:52
    I think I started on my wellness journey when I became pregnant and was trying to make better decisions for myself and my future children. Now they're here, thankfully. I just became interested in wellness content and learning about how I can make those decisions. I still always wanted to eat really good food. I wasn't willing to make deep sacrifices. But I did decide that I was going to start taking care of my body and my health for my children's sake, and started listening to people like Dr. Hyman and MindBodyGreen and then came on to your brand, like Purely Elizabeth, that can help make those decisions easier and thinking about being gluten-free, and should I be eating dairy. That's really where it started. It did coincide with the launch of Kosterina and understanding the health benefits of that and putting it all together. If you come to, you'll see most of our content is very wellness-focused and isn't only about nutrition. It's also about movement or lifestyle. It started when I became pregnant, and I have three children. So, I was pregnant for a little while.

    Elizabeth Stein 26:01
    How old are your kids now?

    Katerina Mountanos 26:03
    They are four, five and seven.

    Elizabeth Stein 26:07
    Yeah, you’re a handful. I'm sure everyone wants to hear how you, I never use the word balance, but how you are managing having three kids that age and running the business and doing all the other things in your life to feel your best?

    Katerina Mountanos 26:21
    I think it just takes planning. I have to just sit down at the beginning of each week and map out who's taking who where and when the doctor's appointments are. Then I can make my work schedule. I think being the founder of the company helps me manage my schedule in a way that I wouldn't be able to if I wasn't, ironically. I'm always on and feel like I'm always working, I can fit in all the family responsibilities that I have. I also do feel like my kids give me balance. At 6 pm our nanny goes home, who by the way we're so lucky to have because she's what makes us makes it possible for my husband and I both to work full-time jobs. But when she goes home, I'm on mom duty, and I'm spending time with my kids. So I can't work from 6 pm to 9 pm. If I need to come back later, I will. You just have to try to do what you can. I do think exercise and health and wellness are super important too. So, I try to make time for that as well. Sometimes it comes out of work hours where maybe I'm on an hour walk but still on a conference call, which happens a lot as well. So, try to double up and multitask.

    Elizabeth Stein 27:31
    I think that's such a good tip too. If you can now be sitting in front of Zoom, at this point, I feel like I'm trying to get more meetings off Zoom. But it's so hard because we're so accustomed to it. But if you can get off and take a call outside on a walk, it’s just so wonderful for your mind and body.

    Katerina Mountanos 27:52
    We asked the whole team to make sure they do at least one walking meeting a day. So we put it in. It says that you don't have to be on Zoom. You can walk. So, I find that helps us.

    Elizabeth Stein 28:04
    I love that. I'm gonna take that tip. Any other tips like that, that you have?

    Katerina Mountanos 28:09
    I mean, we tried to do any events, or I think we're also just like sharin

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