Chinese dairy giants Yili and Mengniu made the biggest strides in Rabobank’s annual survey of the world’s largest 20 companies in the sector.

Having entered the top 20 for the first time in 2010, Yili moved up four places to 15th in 2011’s list. Mengniu rose two places into 16th.

“The ability of these companies to respond to changing global market dynamics will determine their prospects for survival and success in coming years. Rabobank expects to see dairy companies continue to vigorously pursue M&A targets in the next 12 months as they jostle to position themselves for growth and profit in a changing market environment,” Rabobank said.

The most notable shift at the top end of the table is the continued rise of French dairy group Lactalis. With ongoing sales growth and the acquisitions of Italy’s Parmalat and Sweden’s Skanemejerier, Lactalis has moved up one position to third.

Nestle remained at the top of the list, while Danone kept its second position.

Rabobank said it expects to see companies continue to “vigorously” pursue merger and acquisition targets in the next 12 months as they “jostle to position themselves for growth and profit” in a changing market environment.

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