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Fonterra has dropped from third to fourth place in Rabobank's latest survey of the world's top 20 dairy companies.
The dairy co-operative, which is the world's largest exporter of dairy products, has been overtaken by French company Lactalis.
Top of the list and unchanged from last year is Swiss company Nestle, with turnover in 2011 of $US25.9 billion ($NZ32.5 billion). Fonterra's turnover for 2011 was about $US15.7 billion (NZ$19.9 billion).
While 18 of the companies are the same as the previous year, the survey shows some significant changes, including the continued rise of Lactalis.
The biggest strides up the table have been made by the "Chinese giants". Having entered the top 20 for the first time in 2010, Yili has moved up four places into 15th and Mengniu has moved up two places into 16th, riding the wave of domestic market sales growth.
Despite the rise of the Chinese, the list remains dominated by those based in OECD countries.
Growth in traditional dairy markets during the next five years is expected to slow, as the industry battles economic and demographic headwinds, already high dairy consumption levels, overweight consumers and concerns over the cost of dairy products.
By contrast, emerging markets such as China, South East Asia, India and Latin America are expected to offer good sales growth with almost the opposite trends in place.
Sixteen of the largest 20 dairy companies have investments in manufacturing in Asia and/or Latin America, while 15 have investments in China alone.
Rabobank 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.
The ASB New Zealand commodity price index increased 0.4% in NZD terms during the past week. Dairy prices were slightly higher and the prices of meat and forestry were broadly flat in international markets.