Rural Cooperatives

Global 300 list reveals world’s largest cooperatives

Global 300 list reveals world’s largest cooperatives

David S. Chesnick

To demonstrate the importance of cooperatives in today’s global economy, the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) initiated the Global 300 project–a listing of the world’s 300 largest cooperatives.

ICA believes that cooperatives are not as visible in the global economy as are for-profit businesses. It was felt a Global 300 list would help clarify just how vital cooperatives are to the global economy.


Through the hard work of many cooperators around the world, the Global 300 was released on Oct. 25. The full list of cooperatives and mutuals, as some user-owned businesses are called, can be found at the Web site:

The International Co-operative Alliance is the independent, nongovernmental association that unites, represents and serves co-ops worldwide. Founded in 1895, the ICA has 230 member organizations from 92 countries active in all sectors of the economy. Together, these co-ops represent more than 800 million people worldwide.

$1 trillion in revenue

Listed among the Global 300 are some of the world’s largest businesses. The Global 300 co-ops had total revenue of nearly $1 trillion in 2004. If they were a nation, these 300 co-ops would have the 10th largest gross domestic product in the world, ranking just behind Canada.

The United States is home to more of the Global 300 than any other nation, with 62 (or nearly 20 percent of the total list). It is followed by France, with 45, then Germany with 33 and Italy with 28 co-ops on the list. Cooperatives in these four countries represent more than 50 percent of the Global 300.

Japan, however, is home to both the No. 1 and 2 ranked businesses. Topping the Global 300 is Zen-Noh, a national federation of agriculture and food cooperatives that had revenue of $53.8 billion in 2004 (see sidebar). Also included in the Global 300 are: the largest rice miller and marketer in the world; the largest employer in Switzerland; the largest bank in France and the largest food processor in India.

The largest U.S. business on the list is Columbus, Ohio-based Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. (which is owned by its policy holders), at No. 4, with $23.7 billion in annual revenue. The next highest ranked U.S. cooperative is CHS Inc., a federated agribusiness cooperative, which had sales of $10.9 billion in 2004. The next-ranked U.S. co-ops were DFA at 22, LoL at 28 and Wakefern Foods, a food retailing co-op with $7.1 billion in 2004 sales, at No. 30.

Built to last

Since cooperatives are generally organized for the benefit of members rather than to earn profits for investors, they tend to take a longer term view with respect to their operations. That is not to say that cooperatives don’t look at the bottom line, but rather that they have other objectives that focus more on the long-term survival of the business.

This is illustrated by how long many of these cooperatives have existed. Nearly half of the Global 300 cooperatives were established prior to 1940. Indeed, more than 13 percent were formed prior to the 1900s. That’s right: more than 1 in 10 of the Global 300 cooperatives have been around for more than 100 years. Businesses do not turn the century mark unless they have consistently met a strong need better than their competition.

Three groups or business sectors make up more than 80 percent of the Global 300. These sectors include agriculture, financial institutions (including insurance, banking, credit unions and diversified financial organizations) and retailing/wholesaling businesses.

More than one-third of the Global 300 cooperatives are involved in agriculture. Nearly every country represented in the Global 300 has at least one agriculture cooperative represented in the list of 300 cooperatives.

Financial institutes represented more than a quarter of the total Global 300 cooperatives. However, these cooperatives held the largest amount of assets of any group, controlling more than 45 percent of the Global 300 assets.

Retailing/wholesaling cooperatives represented 31 percent of the total Global 300. More than one half of all these cooperatives are headquartered in three countries: the United States (19.4 percent), Italy (19.4 percent) and France (11.8 percent).

As mentioned earlier, revenue generated by the Global 300 totaled $965 billion. The graph on page 28 illustrates the revenues (in U.S. dollars) of the cooperatives by country. Sixty percent of the total revenues were generated by cooperatives in four countries: France ($174 billion); Japan ($143.6 billion); United States ($133.1 billion); and Germany ($125.6 billion).

One of the main goals of the Global 300 project was to demonstrate the important role cooperatives play in the world market. In that, the project proved to be successful. It is believed that as this project continues, we will find that cooperatives are not “old dinosaurs heading for extinction,” but rather, cooperatives are a vital cog in the global economy.

Global 300 selection criteria

Establishing a definition of a cooperative business–one that applies across all countries and business sectors–was somewhat problematic in determining the Global 300. Many cooperatives also use other corporate forms, such as subsidiary company structures in which the co-op may have either total or majority ownership. At what point are some of these related, supporting cooperative business structures no longer really cooperatives?

In order to determine what is, or isn’t, a cooperative or mutual business, a data-validation group was established with the help of the Cooperative Programs staff of USDA Rural Development.

The first test for inclusion was that a business must have a cooperative or mutual character and be recognized as such by its business sector. International Cooperative Association (ICA) members, or members of an ICA-related organization, were placed on the list. Many mutual insurers are members of International Cooperative Mutual Insurance Federation, but are not members of ICA. Regardless, they were eligible for the Global 300.

A business was included if considered a co-op or mutual by its business sector and according to the available business structures in its host nation.

For the next step, the data-validation group looked at the list and determined if inclusions or exclusions should be made from the list for various reasons. It was decided not to limit the list to just cooperatives, because in some countries there is no appropriate legislation for forming cooperatives. In these nations, some businesses that would in other countries be incorporated as cooperatives are instead formed as mutuals.

RELATED ARTICLE: ZEN-NOH: Japan’s federated ag co-op.

ZEN-NOH–the National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations–is Japan’s federation of agricultural co-ops and is the largest co-op organization in the world. Of the 3 million farm households in Japan, most belong to one of ZEN-NOH’s 1,010 primary-level co-ops.

The co-op had total sales of $56.3 billion in 2003 and employs about 12,500 people.

In cooperation with Japan’s regional federations and primary-level co-ops, ZEN-NOH serves its member farmers by purchasing and distributing materials and equipment for agricultural production and daily farm needs. ZEN-NOH is equally involved in the collection, distribution and marketing of ag products, which it handles through its own channels. ZEN-NOH works to further develop Japanese agriculture, to improve farm life and to secure reliable food supplies for the nation.

Japan relies heavily on overseas sources for raw materials. To ensure cost-efficient and stable operations, ZEN-NOH imports quality materials for Japanese farmers, including fertilizers, feedstuffs, liquid petroleum gas and oil. Imports for ZEN-NOH from the United States include feed ingredients, feed grains, sulphate of potash magnesia, ammonium phosphate, corrugated-fiber board, soybeans, seeds and sulphate of potash.

Overseas operations range from importing directly from producing countries, establishing procurement subsidiaries and production bases, to chartering ocean-going vessels.

ZEN-NOH was incorporated in March 1972 and includes 1,173 ag co-op members. 0f these, 1,010 are primary-level co-ops, 10 are prefectural economic federations of co-ops, 43 are specialized federations of co-ops and 66 are other types of ag federations. There are 44 associate members.

To learn more, ZEN-NOH’s 2004 business profile is available (in English) at:

David S. Chesnick & Carolyn B. Liebrand


USDA Rural Development, Cooperative Programs

World’s Top 25 Cooperatives

Name Type Country Sales

In U.S.



1. ZEN-NOH Food and Agriculture Japan $53,898

2. Zenkyoren Insurance Japan $46,680

3. Credit Agricole Group Finance France $32,914

4. Nationwide Mutual

Insurance Company Insurance U.S. $23,711

5. National Agricultural

Cooperative Federation Food and Agriculture Korea $22,669

6. Groupama Insurance France $21,651

7. Migros Retail Switzerland $17,779

8. The Co-operative

Group Retail U.K. $16,556

9. Edeka Zentrale AG Retail Germany $15,986

10. Mondragon Corp. Materials Spain $14,155

11. Rabobank Group Finance Netherlands $13,608

12. UNIPOL Finance Italy $12,386

13. Co-op Swiss Retail Switzerland $12,371

14. Groupe Caisse

D’Epargne Banking France $12,143

15. Co-op Norden Retail Denmark, $11,968



16. Confederation

Nationale du Credit

Mutuel Banking France $11,848

17. Metsaliitto Food and Agriculture Finland $11,636

18. R+V Versicherung AG Insurance Germany $11,240

19. CHS, Inc. Food and Agriculture U.S. $10,980

20. The Norinchukin

Bank Group Banking Japan $10,643

21. Groupe Banques

Populaires Finance France $10,348

22. Dairy Farmers of

America Food and Agriculture U.S. $8,936

23. Zenrosai Insurance Japan $8,932

24. Fonterra

Co-operative Group Food and Agriculture New Zealand $8,354

25. ReWe Group


Aktiengesellschaft) Retail Germany $8,307

COPYRIGHT 2007 U.S. Department of Agriculture, Rural Business – Cooperative Service

COPYRIGHT 2007 Gale Group