Rabobank says its annual survey of the world's largest dairy companies shows two new Chinese companies in the top 20.
It says the past 18 months have seen most of these players battle challenging conditions, with weak economies and supply constraints undermining sales growth in key markets.
Tim Hunt, Rabobank analyst, said mergers and acquisitions had become an attractive route to growth and profitability.
He said dairy giants would need to acquire or tie up with more companies to sustain the same rates of growth in future and thrive.
"Once again, giants Nestle, Danone and Lactalis top the list, showing that the world's largest dairy companies are reasonably entrenched," Hunt said.
"We continue to see some companies outperform their peers in sheer growth terms. In particular, the Chinese giants Yili and Mengniu, which saw their sales expand by 14 per cent and 20 per cent respectively, with Yili entering the top 10 for the first time ever."
Saputo continued its march up the list to push to eighth place, in part due to several recent acquisitions.
Hunt said Meiji and Morinaga slipped down the list largely due to the sharp decline in the value of the yen.
- Manawatu Standard