For Demeter’s Pantry, a chance to show off at local Costcos

Maria Kardamaki Robertson has eight weeks to prove herself.

Robertson, founder of Demeter’s Pantry, got a big break last month when Costco tapped her line of packaged Greek meals for a two-month trial run at five of its regional stores.

“This was a rare opportunity to have daily conversations with people and get a lot of feedback,” said Robertson, who lives in Silver Spring, and currently sells meals to area Whole Foods, Balducci’s and Roots Market stores. “As a wholesale company, you’re kind of isolated from your customers.”

If all goes well in the coming weeks — Robertson has a sales target she must hit — Costco plans to stock Robertson’s “The Greek Table” line of freshly prepared meals at its new location in the District, as well as at its Fairfax, Arlington, Sterling and Elkridge stores.

“We’re constantly trying to find new local items,” said Mary Conoboy, who works in Costco’s Sterling office.

The national chain has long had regional buying offices that specialize in identifying and stocking local fare, Conoboy added.

Robertson started Demeter’s Pantry in 2003 to import specialty foods such as Greek olive oil, honey and sea salt to the United States, but began noticing a growing demand for freshly prepared food that could be reheated at home.

In 2008, she created “The Greek Table” line. Robertson would not disclose sales figures, but said the company was profitable and that annual revenue was “in the tens of thousands of dollars.”

Meals such as chicken stifado, a traditional stew, are cooked twice a week at a kitchen in Alexandria and are delivered to stores the next day. At Costco, two-pound trays of moussaka, a beef casserole, and roasted eggplant sell for $12.99.

“We want to give the American consumer a chance to taste Greek food the way we’d cook at home,” said Robertson, 46.

But, she added, she has made one adjustment.

“We’ve cut down on how much olive oil we use,” she said. “Greeks swim in olive oil when they make their food, and it was just too oily for many of our customers.”

Abha Bhattarai covers local banking, retail and hospitality for The Washington Post’s Capital Business section.
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