Unlike in many previous years, this year’s Dairy 100 rankings reflect no deletions or additions — or even major losses or gains, with a few exceptions.
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A lot can happen in a year. The COVID-19 pandemic-spurred doom-and-gloom situation that existed when we last published our annual Dairy 100 — ranging from lost dairy sales in foodservice to dairy export-related roadblocks — has transformed into a decidedly sunnier situation.

Although many challenges remain, including but certainly not limited to increased competition from plant-based dairy alternatives, the worst of the pandemic-related trials and tribulations appear to be in the rearview mirror.

Perhaps surprisingly, this year’s Dairy 100 list largely does not reflect the turmoil of 2020 (companies are ranked according to 2020 sales data). Unlike in many previous years, this year’s rankings reflect no deletions or additions — or even major losses or gains, with a few exceptions.

A few changes within the top 10

There were a few changes to the list of top 10 processors in the 2021 Dairy 100 list in comparison to 2020 (see the charts). Nestlé, Zone Americas moved up from No. 3 to take the top spot (although the sales number does reflect some non-North American operations we were unable to separate out). And last year’s No. 1 processor, Dairy Farmers of America, moved into the No. 3 slot (we likely overestimated the company’s sales last year tied to the acquisition of many of Dean Foods’ assets).

One dairy processor, Prairie Farms Dairy Inc., dropped off the top 10 list, but still made it into the top 20 at No. 15 (we likely overestimated the company’s sales last year tied to the acquisition of some of Dean Foods’ assets). And Unilever’s North American operations (No. 13 on last year’s list) is new to the top 10 (No. 9).

Changes are coming

A notable recent divesture and a few notable acquisitions could makes some big differences to next year’s list, however. The biggest of those is Kraft-Heinz Co.’s 2021 divesture of many of its cheese businesses to Lactalis American Group. According Kraft Heinz, the transaction included its natural, grated, cultured, and specialty cheese businesses in the United States, as well as its grated cheese business in Canada and the entire international cheese business outside of those two countries.

Although sales for those cheese businesses — and estimated 1.8 billion — are included in this year’s rankings for Kraft Heinz because we rely on 2020 sales data, the company could very likely drop out of the top 10 next year. On the flip side, Lactalis Group’s North American operations, No. 18 on this year’s list, could very likely move up to the top 10.

On the acquisition front, Saputo Inc. continues to make noise. The processor, No. 2 on our list both this year and last year, recently announced three strategic acquisitions that could see it slide ahead of No. 1 Nestlé, Zone Americas in next year’s rankings.

In May, Saputo said it completed the acquisition of Bute Island Foods Ltd., a manufacturer, marketer, and distributor of a variety of cheese alternative products for both the retail and foodservice markets under the award-winning vegan Sheese brand, alongside private label brands. The business is located on the Isle of Bute, off the West Coast of Scotland, and employs approximately 180 people.

Also in May, Saputo said it entered into an agreement to acquire the Reedsburg, Wis., facility of Wisconsin Specialty Protein LLC. This facility manufactures value-added ingredients such as goat whey, organic lactose, and other dairy powders and employs approximately 40 people. The acquisition will enable Saputo to broaden and increase the value of its ingredients offering, enhancing its portfolio in the United States and internationally.

And in July, Saputo said it entered into an agreement to acquire the activities of Wensleydale Dairy Products Ltd. The business, which will join Saputo Inc.’s Dairy Division (UK) under its Europe Sector, operates two facilities located in North Yorkshire, England, and employs approximately 210 people.

Wensleydale Dairy Products manufactures, blends, markets, and distributes a variety of specialty and regional cheeses, including Yorkshire Wensleydale cheese, which Saputo said will complement and broaden the company’s existing range of British cheeses, including Cathedral City and Davidstow cheddars.

How we compiled the list

We began our research by contacting all of the company’s on last year’s Dairy 100 list to request information, including their 2020 (or most recent) revenues and any other updates. We also requested information from companies that almost made last year’s list or underwent a growth spurt in 2020.

For public companies that did not respond to us, we relied on publicly available information regarding revenues. For private companies and cooperatives that did not respond, we estimated revenue — relying, in part, on company news and sources that include but are not limited to reports from Forbes and other publications.


THE Dairy Industry Code of Conduct has brought about a “significant culture change” within the dairy sector and helped increase competition at the farmgate, according to Australian Competition & Consumer Commission deputy chair Mick Keogh.

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