This Secretive Billionaire Makes Most of the World’s Mozzarella
When you order from Domino’s or pop a Stouffer’s Lasagna in the oven, we bet you don’t think about where all of that gooey cheese comes from. A recent profile in Forbes takes a closer look at James Leprino, the secluded billionaire who made his fortune from distributing cheese products wholesale to the nationwide pizza chains and frozen food manufacturers in America. The Denver-based Leprino Foods is the largest mozzarella producer in the world and supplies cheese to Pizza Hut, Domino's, Little Ceasars, and Papa John's, as well as dairy products for such big names as Hot Pockets, Stouffer’s, Pillsbury, and Yoplait.
But you’d never know that James Leprino, 79, was one of the most successful cheesemakers in the world. He told Forbes that he likes to keep his public and private life quiet. He has never been photographed by the press, and you can’t find photos of him online. Leprino is worth an estimated $3 billion and attributes his success to focusing on mass production of cheese catered toward large wholesale buyers, rather than artisanal cheesemaking techniques.
Leprino Foods has never had a recall — a rarity in the industry — and focuses on quality first and foremost, followed by service, price, and ethics. However, in 2015, they were called out for using Winchester Dairy — a dairy farm that was cited for unethical treatment of livestock. Later that year they made a new commitment to animal welfare.
“Your employees have got to know you're not a phony,” he told Forbes’ Chloe Sorvino. “They've got to believe in you.” To maintain this trust, Leprino walks to the company’s test kitchen each week to personally test recently produced cheese samples.
He became the king of the cheese industry by offering large companies like Pizza Hut ways to cut down on costs without sacrificing taste or quality. Leprino Foods was the first to start selling frozen, pre-sliced blocks of cheese. Thanks to Leprino’s product, pizzamakers didn’t have to spend time and money shredding cheese — they could just lay it on and go.
Their next innovation? Leprino’s first-ever direct-to-consumer product: a whey protein powder called Ascent, which will begin their foray into the sports nutrition world.
Leprino isn’t the only major food supplier out there. These are the 10 Companies That Make Everything We Eat and Drink.