James Leprino is a globally recognized industrialist known for being the founder of Leprino Foods, the largest producer of mozzarella cheese in the world. His immense contributions to the dairy industry, along with his impressive business acumen, have earned him a place among the most successful entrepreneurs globally.
James Leprino was born in 1938 to Mike and Mary Leprino, Italian immigrants in Denver, Colorado, as the youngest of five children. His father emigrated from Italy in 1914 and was a farm worker until he started a grocery store in Denver’s Little Italy.
The young Leprino grew up in the Little Italy neighborhood of North Denver, where he was introduced to the world of cheese-making through his family’s small grocery store. His father, Mike Leprino Sr., sold homemade ricotta and mozzarella cheese from the store, sparking an interest in James, who began to see the potential in the dairy industry.
Upon completing high school in 1956, James Leprino committed himself to work alongside his father in their family store. However, in 1958, the family business was forced to shut its doors due to intense competition from large supermarket chains. Undeterred, Leprino took the plunge into entrepreneurship by founding Leprino Foods with an initial investment of $615. He strategically focused on producing cheese for pizzas, a market segment that was experiencing significant growth at the time. This would work out very well for him over his career.
In 1958, following his father’s death, James Leprino took over the family grocery store, and within a few years, he transformed the small business into a globally renowned cheese-making company – Leprino Foods. He would soon become known as the world’s largest mozzarella cheese maker, with over $3.5 billion in estimated annual sales.
James saw a market in producing high-quality cheese for the rapidly growing pizza industry. As the company expanded, it began to focus on mass production of mozzarella cheese, supplying to various pizza chains, including Pizza Hut, Domino’s, and Papa John’s.
When Leprino Foods became the exclusive cheese supplier to Domino’s in 1996, the contract was more of a handshake than a legal document at just one page long, but he would solidify his space as the leading pizza cheese provider in the country.
Leprino Foods also developed a reputation for its innovation in the dairy industry. The company was among the first to develop a method for the mass production of low-moisture mozzarella and, subsequently, created individually quick-frozen (IQF) cheese—revolutionary products that reshaped the industry.
Under James Leprino’s leadership, Leprino Foods grew into the world’s largest mozzarella cheese maker and the leading producer of lactose and whey protein – two critical ingredients in baby formula. Today, Leprino Foods has more than 50 patents. Those innovations are essentially how Leprino created the “pizza cheese” that Americans eat today.
He’s married with two children and lives in Indian Hills, Colorado.
As of 2023, James Leprino’s net worth is estimated to be $3 billion, according to Forbes, making him one of the wealthiest individuals in Colorado and one of the richest in the United States. His wealth is largely derived from his ownership of Leprino Foods.
James Leprino’s achievements are rooted in his ability to transform a small family business into a multi-billion dollar global empire. He has significantly impacted the cheese industry with his innovative products and production techniques.
In 2000, he was inducted into the Cheese Hall of Fame, and in 2008, he received the National Cheese Institute’s highest honor, the NCI Laureate Award. His contributions to the dairy industry have not only revolutionized cheese-making but also contributed significantly to the growth of many fast-food chains that rely on the quality mozzarella that Leprino Foods produces.
Despite his immense wealth and influence, James Leprino maintains a low-profile. He has an Instagram without many posts on it: @james_Leprino_ Over the years, Leprino has supported various charitable causes and initiatives. Through the Leprino Family Foundation, he has donated millions to educational, medical, and children's causes. He also played a key role in funding the construction of the Leprino Quality Foods Center at Colorado State University, contributing to the advancement of food science and human nutrition research.