Whether as an environmentalist/entrepreneur, consultant, author or motivational speaker, Anthony Zolezzi has dedicated much of his career to improving the quality of life for Earth’s inhabitants. Over the last 30 years, he has worked to improve our food supply through organic agriculture, supporting small family farms, and cleaning up the planet through recycling remediation businesses and initiatives, while celebrating the incredible and extraordinary people he has encountered along the way. His most recent endeavors have included working on health and wellness initiatives, from breakthrough plant nutrients to nutraceuticals and pharmaceuticals, including one of the only preventative antibody treatments for Covid 19.
Zolezzi, whose work ethic and respect for the natural world were acquired aboard his family’s deep-water fishing boat during the summers of his youth, believes that individuals who understand how incredible and awesome they are will do what’s right for people and the planet, as well as acknowledge the unique and essential role in Mother Nature’s grand design played by each individual organism.
After six years in Private Equity with Pegasus Capital Advisors, helping to identify and fund those enterprises best able to support those aims, Zolezzi switched hats and in 2018 was named CEO of TwinLab, a 50-year-old publicly traded nutraceutical company. His attention quickly focused on how old business concepts needed to change and the challenges a half-century-old company faces in dealing with a contemporary culture of online sales, realizing how TwinLab could lead the way in nutraceuticals becoming more mainstream by partnering with major healthcare providers like New York-based Northwell Health.
In August 2019, Zolezzi left TwinLab to pursue broader-reaching initiatives within the health and wellness landscape to work with such providers. To this end, Zolezzi and his colleagues formed UxHealth which invested and put management into three separate companies.
One of these, Diomics, was a dormant firm that owned intellectual property and technology with multiple proprietary uses from curing diabetes to using stem cells for wound and skin care. As the pandemic became more pronounced, the team pivoted to SARS Covid 2 products. The team members felt it was their obligation to address a preventive-versus-vaccine-and-monitoring approach versus rapid testing for SARS Covid 2, resulting in a prophylaxis intranasal protection nasal spray with a specific Monoclonal Antibody and a second one for a monitoring system similar to the Mantou Tubercolosis test. Zolezzi and his team immediately went to work. They secured funding from individuals and the Department of Defense and are now entering clinical trials to launch the products’ second quarter of 2021. Through this Covid research they also determined the technology was a path forward to revolutionize wound care and could potentially even be a cure for Type 1 or juvenile diabetes. The Diabetes clinical trials are planned for the 4th quarter of 2021.
Zolezzi has devoted much of his career to creating innovative and profitable models for corporations and investment companies, including PepsiCo, Sealed Air, Walmart, AeroVironment, Waste Management, Nestlé, Keurig, Pegasus Capital Advisors, and Continuus Materials (Emerging Infrastructure Fund). He has played a major role in six start-ups, leading all with a vision that supports the greater good through sustainability, health, and wellness.
Zolezzi is a graduate of Loyola Marymount University. He entered the MBA program at San Diego State while working for Foodmaker, Inc., the parent company of Jack in the Box. While attending a social event a few months later, Zolezzi met Ralston Purina Vice Chairman Paul Corneilson, who asked him to suggest ways Jack in the Box could be more profitable. Within two weeks of recommending strategies to Corneilson, he was off to St. Louis to begin a 10-year CEO training program with the company. He began by learning the business from the ground up by working directly with multiple CEOs and Presidents of Ralston Purina subsidiaries and divisions. During this time, he also completed the company’s Executive Program and attended the Kellogg School at Northwestern. After nine years with Ralston Purina, Zolezzi was asked to lead the pricing team for the Purina Mills sale to British Petroleum, resulting in the company being sold at a premium that resulted in his confirmation as a vested member of the company’s executive team.
Zolezzi eventually left Ralston Purina to become founder and CEO of Pacific Basin Foods, a full-service restaurant distributorship, which was sold three years later to Kyotaro, a Japanese restaurant group. But he continued to work with his management team from Pacific Basin Foods, which began to look for new opportunities.
In 1990, after studying the profiles of industry leaders like Richard Guigline, Charlie Lynch and others, he formed Preferred Food Management, a company specializing in turnarounds. In just nine months, the team took Bunzl PLC, a $700 million produce processing and distribution company working primarily for KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) and Sizzler restaurants, from losing more than $12 million annually to breaking even. The company later was sold to Albert Fisher Group, a London-based roll-up of produce companies.
Zolezzi and his team were then quickly hired to perform another turnaround with Galletti Brothers Foods, Inc., a meat repackaging company that served major retailers across the United States, which they stabilized and returned to its original founders.
But Zolezzi’s reputation really began to soar after Meridian Products, the world’s largest shrimp, lobster and crab consolidation company whose sales and margins were declining, asked him in 1994 to help them find growth vehicles. After a rough seven months of very little traction or change, Zolezzi was inspired by the movie Forrest Gump, and had an “aha!” moment. When he saw the character, nicknamed Bubba Gump, reciting a list of the types of cooked shrimp dishes available in his hometown of Bayou La Batre, Alabama, Zolezzi knew what he had to do. The next morning, Zolezzi headed straight to Paramount Pictures, where he secured the only licensing deal ever issued for Forrest Gump, which included shrimp, chocolates, hats and t-shirts.
He then used that licensing deal to launch the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, putting Meridian Products into value-added consumer products on retail grocery shelves. Within three months of launch, the company had major displays in over 5,000 stores. Zolezzi also convinced the Rusty Pelican restaurant chain’s management to open their Monterey, Calif., store as the first Bubba Gump Shrimp Company location, which led Meridian on a path out of bankruptcy. ConAgra brands later bought Meridian Products and the RustyPelican/Bubba Gump Shrimp Company restaurant chain, which is now part of Landry’s portfolio.
After the success of the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, Zolezzi co-founded Eco Terra with Bill Shepard. Their drive to create a food company that was sustainable and used natural techniques to eliminate pesticides and herbicides eventually led to the creation of the Association of Family Farms and was instrumental in helping Zolezzi gain the knowledge he needed to pursue his next challenge.
In 2002, Horizon Organic Board of Directors member Mark Retzloff asked Zolezzi to explore new markets for the company’s products. Zolezzi negotiated a partnership with Starbucks, which solidified Horizon Organic’s position as the safe milk for children. This partnership put Starbucks in the unique position of allowing moms a healthy in-store choice for their children. It also gave national distribution to an organic brand well before the USDA Organic Certification rules were conceived.
Some of Zolezzi’s other successful business start-up ventures include:
• Creating a partnership between Wild Oats Market and Walmart to make wellness products both affordable and accessible, which became one of the most successful product launches in Walmart’s history.
• Co-founding Code Blue Recycling, which filed 19 unique recycling patents, and partnered with PepsiCo, Whole Foods Market and Waste Management to implement a large-scale recycling program, before being sold to Waste Management in 2006.
• Co-founding and launching Pet Promise Natural Pet Food, which quickly became the leader in the natural pet food category, and was sold to Nestlé Purina in 2004.
• Partnering with Dave Carter to create the Association of Family Farms to bring primarily small beef and pork processors together, which ended up becoming the supply chain for Chipotle.
• Along with his existing team, successfully creating an avenue for large-scale recycling of PET and waste cardboard into recycled roof board that was used effectively by ReWall (which was purchased by Continuus Materials in 2018).
• Working directly with the Prince of Wales to develop and produce his book and accompanying documentary, Harmony, highlighting Prince Charles’ personal health and sustainability initiatives.
He is the author or co-author of seven books including: Uncharted Waters (Boat to Boardroom; lessons I’ve Learned); Do Something: Leave Your Mark on the World; The Detachment Paradox, and Chemical-Free Kids: How to Safeguard Your Child’s Diet and Environment.
Zolezzi and his wife, Kathleen, have five children and six grandchildren. They are both San Diego natives who now spend their time between that city and Boca Raton, Florida.