Four friends came together with the aim of making the classic Greek cheese pie a staple on American dinner tables with their Demetra Pies brand of frozen products, which was recently awarded in the Re-Inspiring Greece From the Youth Up competition.
The idea started with George Ballas, a mechanical engineer and business adviser, and Alexandros Toulias, a civil engineer and analyst at a large investment firm in Germany, who decided that they needed a product that would make them stand out from the competition. They abandoned promising careers in their respective fields and founded a food export company in Athens that promotes high-quality Greek products abroad. Frozen foods such as traditional Greek cheese and spinach pies are the main area of their focus and the US is the market they have set as their first target.
The original team of two has now been joined by Gerasimos Skaltsas, a civil engineer and resident of Chicago, Illinois, and Dimitris Skaltsas, also a business consultant.
“For us, the crisis acted as an additional impetus to do things we love,” Dimitris Skaltsas explains.
The team basically saw four factors working in their idea’s favor. The first was that while the American frozen food market is a major industry with stiff competition, it has not seen a major breakthrough in several years and seemed poised for “the next big thing.” Second was the recent success of a number of products in the US labeled as “Greek,” such as yogurt, which has become synonymous with high nutritional quality. Last but not least is the simple fact that Americans just can’t seem to get enough of pies.
The fledgling company entered a competition in November organized by Industry Disruptors and Gaea, a leading Greek producer and exporter of local products such as olives, titled Re-Inspire Greece and aimed at inspiring young Greeks to start their own companies in the agribusiness sector. Awards of 50,000 euros in capital and soft loans were provided to eight food startups, among them Demetra Pies, along with support from various organizations such as the American Farm School of Thessaloniki.
Demetra Pies aims to debut on US supermarket shelves within 2014.