A unique model, characterized by its diversity

Many stakeholders

French processing stakeholders are diverse in terms of their size (SMEs or international groups), types of products and legal entities (cooperatives or private companies), and they are also spread out across every dairy region. The opposite situation is true of the Netherlands, Denmark and New Zealand, other major dairy economies that have a single processing business model. The reason for this is the size of these countries, which are similar to French regions.

structures de transformation en France

Sites de transformation laitière aux Pays-Bas et Nouvelle-Zélande

Various types of legal entities

The French dairy model is a mixture of private companies and cooperatives sharing the market. While their structures and ways of operating are different, their objective is the same: process milk and offer high-quality products.

Transformateurs et coopératives en France : collecte et transformation

Carte d'Europe de la transformation


What is a dairy cooperative?

A dairy cooperative is a collective enterprise created by dairy farmers pooling their financial and material resources to develop their farms, process milk and sell it in the long term.

Based on the values of solidarity, fairness and responsibility, a cooperative can range in size from an SME to a multinational.

Examples of French cooperative brands include Cœur de Lion, Candia, Entremont, Le Rustique, Mamie Nova, Soignon and Yoplait.


What are the differences between cooperatives and private companies?

The main difference concerns ownership. In cooperatives, the owners are the dairy farmers themselves (cooperative members), whereas in private companies, the owners are the shareholders.

Cooperatives process all the milk provided by their members. Meanwhile, private companies develop agreements with farmers on the volumes purchased.

Key figures

Private processors

  • Around 400 factories
  • 46% of collected cow's milk
  • 55% of processed cow's milk

Dairy cooperatives

  • More than 260 cooperatives
  • 45 000 cooperative members
  • 54% of collected cow's milk
  • 45% of processed cow's milk


Find out more...

Stakeholders of all sizes operating on all markets

From the very small to the very large, dairy processors cover every market segment.

  • Farmhouse cheese producers (“fruitières”)

    Farmhouse cheese producers are small, local cheese-making cooperatives.

    First appearing in the 13th century in certain villages of the Alps and the Jura region, these producers are now mainly found in Franche-Comté and Savoy. Around 200 of them exist today, focusing their business mainly on transforming milk into Protected Designation of Origin (Appelation d’Origine Côntrolée) cheese.

    Firmly rooted in their local areas, farmhouse cheese producers help to preserve the diversity of French dairy products and skills. In 2012, for example, makers of Comté cheese exported 3,940 tonnes of cheese, or 7% of their total production.

  • Dairy SMEs

    French dairy SMEs have often been born from a family’s desire to maintain an ancestral tradition. There are currently about 370 of them spread out across France, serving regional or national markets.

    Faced with increasing competition from large European or even global groups, these SMEs are increasingly joining forces to improve their performance while aiming to preserve the differentiating features of their products.

  • International stakeholders

    Some French groups created at the end of the 19th century to meet increasing demand in towns and cities have adapted to globalization.

    Five French groups are listed in the global top 25.

A business model contributing to a balanced rural economy

The wide variety of dairy processors produces an economy spread out evenly across nearly every French region.

650 processing plants and 56,500 jobs

The majority of processing plants are located in rural areas in close proximity to production sites for logistical reasons. As a fragile raw material, milk must be transported from the farm to the dairy within 72 hours at a reasonable cost, in terms of both finance and the environment.

Dairies therefore play a key role in supporting the rural economy and preserving jobs. Theirs is a long-term business, given the difficulty of relocating dairy farms with the meadows and crops that provide most of dairy cattle’s feed.

The partnership created many years ago with the six ENILs (National Dairy Industry Schools run by the French Ministry of Agriculture) is a key contributor to the dairy industry’s dynamic vocational training. Focused above all on initial training, these schools play an essential role in passing on key skills, especially through apprenticeships. This is a feature of the university diploma in Dairy Products, which was set up at the industry’s request.

A model that generates wealth

Did you know that the dairy industry is the second largest French agrifood sector after meat? With revenues of €29.8 billion, it is a key driver of the French economy.

1,500 dairy products to satisfy every taste

Where does France’s rich dairy offering come from? The answer is both the very wide diversity of regional dairy skills and traditions, and the innovation that drives dairy groups. This vast range of products enables dairy manufacturers to cover every market segment.

Historical regional skills

Des savoir-faire historiques en région
La carte de France des produits laitiers AOP

High-value dairy products

A product range featuring high-value products.

Processed milk


75% of collected milk is transformed into consumer products
(cheese, yoghurts and cream, including 49 PDO products)


25% of milk is transformed into industrial ingredients
(lactoserum power, concentrated butter, etc.)


Five world-class French groups rank in the global top 25


2014 revenues: $21.9 billion

N°1 worldwide for milk, n°2 worldwide for cheese

Leading brands: Lactel Eveil, Président, Société, Galbani, etc.



2014 revenues: $14.8 billion

N°1 worldwide for fresh dairy products and n°4 worldwide for milk

Leading brands: Gervais, Danette, Taillefine, Activia, etc.


2014 revenues: $7,2 billion

N°2 worldwide for fresh dairy products

Leading brands: Candia, Grand Lait, Viva, Croissance, etc.


2014 revenues: $6.1 billion

N°1 wordwide for cheese spécialties

Leading brands: Tartare, Saint-Morêt, Caprice des Dieux, Elle&Vire, etc.


2014 revenues: $3.7 billion

Leading brands: Kiri, Vache Qui Rit, Boursin, Apéricube, etc.