Rabobank urged US dairy groups to look beyond domestic borders as it flagged their decline down the industry rankings, behind their more globalised European rivals, and growing Chinese competitors.
Of the five US dairy companies that Rabobank included in its list of the world's top 20 dairy groups last year, two were demoted in the 2013 list, with one, Land O'Lakes, disappearing altogether. None improved their standing.
The waning US presence reflects in part restructurings, with Kraft Foods losing rank thanks to its spin-off of some of its operations last year as Mondolez.
However, Rabobank also flagged "confinement to the domestic market and a lack of sizeable acquisitions".
'Adept at exploiting change'
Indeed, Canada's Saputo rose three places to ninth in the table by buying Morningstar from America's Dean Foods, continuing "to play a large role in consolidating the North American industry".
Meanwhile, the biggest five groups – Europe's Nestle, Danone, Lactalis and FrieselandCampina plus New Zealand-based Fonterra – have maintained their top placings for six years, by proving "adept at exploiting industry change" and continuing "to expand via organic growth and acquisition".
Top world dairy groups, by dairy turnover, (change on year)
1: Nestle, $30.1bn, (+16.2%)
2: Danone, $19.4bn, (-0.5%)
3: Lactalis, $18.0bn, (-4.3%)
4: Fonterra, $18.0bn, (+1.9%)
5: FrieslandCampina, $13.5bn, (+0.7%)
With many of the "growth opportunities" in dairy likely to come outside the US, the country's largely inward-looking groups "will need to think about whether being an unaligned exporter with no offshore footing will be enough to secure a fair share of the growth and value available", Rabobank global dairy strategist Tim Hunt said.
However, Mr Hunt, who is based in America, also stressed the potential for US dairy groups to expand without recourse to deals, exploiting growing competitiveness on export markets.
"US companies can participate in growth offshore by developing their export businesses," he said, echoing comments he made last month.
"Size should not be a goal in itself."
'Exceptional organic growth'
Rabobank also flagged the growing importance of Chinese dairy companies, with Yili and Mengniu both rising up the league, helped by "exceptional organic growth" in the domestic dairy market.
"The Chinese government's desire for domestic consolidation and vertical integration, together with local market growth, will almost certainly underpin further growth" in these groups, the bank said.
Top US dairy groups, by dairy turnover, change on year)
1: Dairy Farmers of America, $12.1bn, (-6.9%)
2: Dean Foods, $8.8bn, (-25%)
3: Kraft Foods, $5.7bn, (-26%)
4: Schreiber Foods, $4.5bn, (unchanged)
Indeed, foreign dairy groups "should be developing an understanding" of China's industry even if they do not intend to enter the market, given that the likes of Yili "will be a prominent part of the industry for many years to come".
"With the rapid growth of the Chinese giants, it is quite possible that the US giants will be pushed further down the list in coming years, with the global landscape largely being shaped by others at present," Mr Hunt said.