The names on Rabobank 2017 Global Dairy Top 20 list haven’t changed much from a year ago, but the world’s largest dairy companies are taking different paths as they focus on the future.

Natzke dave
Editor / Progressive Dairy

There were no new companies added to the list in 2017, and only minor moves within the list (Table 1). With about $24 billion in 2016 sales, Nestlé remained the largest dairy company in the world.

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Danone and Lactalis swapped second and third positions, although pending acquisitions of Danone’s Stonyfield business in the U.S. and Omira in Germany should propel Lactalis in the coming year. Compared to a year earlier, Friesland/Campina and Fonterra switched fifth and sixth positions.

Among U.S. companies, Dean Foods dropped one position to 11th on the basis of declining fluid milk sales, while Schreiber Foods used the strength of cheese to jump one spot to 17th. Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) was unchanged at fourth, and Kraft Heinz remained 13th on the list.

While European and U.S. companies dominate the list, two Chinese companies are now in the top 10.


Compared to a year earlier, sales were steady to slightly lower for most Top 20 companies. Dairy price recovery at the end of the year came too late to be reflected in 2016 sales totals. Combined, the top 20 companies saw a 1.6 percent decline in sales value (measured in U.S. dollars), leading to a dramatic 14.4 percent decline since 2014.

Companies are taking divergent paths to position themselves for future growth, according to Rabobank’s global dairy head Kevin Bellamy.

“As prices start to move up again and milk volumes delivered by farmers become more limited, dairy companies have once more become more focused on value strategies rather than on volume strategies driving their actions and attitude to growth,” Bellamy said.

For cooperatives, the answer has often been consolidation around their core dairy businesses, divesting of non-dairy enterprises, as they strive to improve margins.

For other companies, the move has been to expand into adjacent sectors. Danone acquired the diverse product lines of WhiteWave Foods, and Dean Foods acquired a minority stake in a non-dairy company (Good Karma) and an organic juice company.

Looking ahead, Bellamy sees growth through expansions, mergers and acquisitions. In the U.S., DFA will partner with Michigan Milk Producers Association, Foremost Farms and Glanbia to build a new cheese and whey facility in Michigan.

Globally, risk mitigation related to potential changes in trade agreements, as well as further changes to environmental and food safety regulations, will drive business strategies. While there were 73 total business mergers and acquisitions in dairy in 2016, the number is already up to 50 at the halfway point of 2017, with half of those in Europe. end mark

Dave Natzke