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Top U.S. Companies by Import and Export Volume

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top u.s. import export companies

Nothing has transformed our economy quite like containerized shipping.

From Rotterdam to Singapore, we see tangible evidence of the world’s bustling maritime shipping network as cranes load and unload uniform containers in a flurry of activity. The efficiency of this system has massively impacted the global economy, but this uniformity has also had the unintended consequence of anonymizing shipping. From the outside looking in, there’s no indication of who’s actually doing the shipping.

Today’s graphic, using data from JOC, highlights the actual companies behind the United States’ import–export numbers.

Outgoing: Recyclables and Raw Materials

While companies like Procter & Gamble and Caterpillar export a high volume of consumer goods and equipment, the export market is dominated by bulk materials, natural resources, and chemicals.

Here are the top 20 companies by export volume (20-foot equivalent units, or TEUs):

RankCompanyTEU (2017)Sector
1America Chung Nam284,500📄 Paper
♻️ Recyclables
2International Paper248,400📄 Paper
📦 Packaging
3Ralison International130,100📄 Paper
♻️ Recyclables
4Koch Industries120,800💼 Conglomerate
5International Forest Products109,400🌲 Paper/Forest Products
♻️ Recyclables
6DeLong106,600🐮 Animal Feed
🌾 Grain
7WM Recycle America75,300💼 Diversified
♻️ Recyclables
8Shintech73,800🛢 Chemicals
9Louis Dreyfus Commodities68,200⚪️ Cotton
💼 Diversified
10WestRock66,300📄 Paper
📦 Packaging
11JBS USA65,400🍖 Meats
🍗 Poultry
12ExxonMobil Chemical63,400🛢 Chemicals
13Newport CH International62,100♻️ Recyclables
14BMW of North America61,600🚘 Automotive Goods
15Cargill57,500💼 Conglomerate
16JC Horizon55,600♻️ Recyclables
17Eastman Chemical53,800🛢 Chemicals/Plastics
18Potential Industries51,600📄 Paper
♻️ Recyclables
19Domtar48,100🌲 Paper/Forest Products
20Sims Metal Management47,700⚙️ Metals
♻️ Recyclables

Note: TEU = Twenty-foot equivalent unit, a measure of volume in units of twenty-foot long shipping containers.

Though exporters of recyclable materials feature prominently on this list, there may be a shake-up coming in the near future.

China’s Recycling Diet

In Western countries, people often assume that their top export by volume is a high-value manufactured good or, at very least, a natural resource like timber or oil. The truth is, a sizable portion of exports from Western countries are waste materials.

This isn’t a new trend. In 2009, nine of the top 20 exporters in the U.S. were sending recyclable materials overseas – particularly to China.

This convenient trade relationship, where ships bring consumer goods to America and return filled with recyclable materials, is being disrupted in a big way. In 2018, China launched Operation National Sword, which could potentially tie a knot in the steady pipeline of waste materials being imported into the country.

For now, countries like Vietnam and Thailand have picked up some of the slack, but before long, Western countries will need to take a serious look at beefing up domestic recycling programs.

Incoming: The Stuff We Buy

On the other end of the equation are the consumer goods that get purchased every day.

In modern society, there’s a very good chance the items around you right now were not built in the country you live in. While many companies import goods from overseas, a few major players move a staggering volume of goods through America’s ports.

Here are the top 20 companies by import volume (TEUs):

RankCompanyTEUs (2017)Sector
1Walmart874,800🛒 Retail
2Target590,300🛒 Retail
3Home Depot388,000🛒 Retail
4Lowe's287,500🛒 Retail
5Dole Food220,200🍍 Produce
6Samsung America184,800💼 Conglomerate
7Family Dollar / Dollar Tree168,400🛒 Retail
8LG Group161,600💼 Conglomerate
9Philips Electronics N.A.142,900📺 Electronics
10IKEA International120,500🛒 Retail
11Chiquita Brands Int'l117,500🍌 Produce
12Nike116,300👞 Footwear / Apparel
13Newell Brands115,400🍶 Outdoor / Home Goods
14Costco Wholesale111,700🛒 Retail
15Sears Holdings103,200🛒 Retail
16J.C. Penney101,100🛒 Retail
17General Electric92,300💼 Conglomerate
18Ashley Furniture Industries85,700🛋 Furniture
19Whirlpool74,700🗄 Appliances
20Heineken USA73,100🍺 Beverages

In contrast to the top exporters list, the top importing companies are generally more recognizable names, such as Target, Home Depot, Dollar Tree, and Ikea.

It will come as no surprise that Walmart, the world’s biggest retailer by some margin, is also America’s top importer. In a single year, Walmart’s incoming goods would equate to nearly 50 of the industry’s largest fully-loaded cargo ships.

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The Top Retailers in the World, by Store Count

Here are the top retailers in the world by physical store presence, illustrating the dominance of convenience and drug store chains.

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This circle graphic shows the retailers with the highest number of locations worldwide.

The Top Retailers in the World, by Store Count

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Which retail chains have the highest global store counts?

Owing to their rapid speed of service in providing the basics to customers, convenience chains stand as the clear leaders. Going further, their smaller footprint allows them to expand their store counts at a greater scale.

This graphic shows the top retailers in the world by store count, based on data from the National Retailers Federation.

Japanese Retailers Dominate the Pack

Below, we show the global retailers with the most physical storefronts in 2023:

RankingRetailerTotal Stores WorldwideIndustryHeadquarters
1Seven & I40,454Convenience Store🇯🇵 Japan
2FamilyMart24,251Convenience Store🇯🇵 Japan
3Lawson21,902Convenience Store🇯🇵 Japan
4CP All16,042Convenience Store🇹🇭 Thailand
5AS Watson16,014Drug Store🇭🇰 Hong Kong
6Schwarz Group14,112Discount Grocery🇩🇪 Germany
7Carrefour14,014Supermarkets🇫🇷 France
8Couche-Tard13,505Convenience Store🇨🇦 Canada
9Aldi13,475Discount Grocery🇩🇪 Germany
10Walgreens Boots Alliance12,961Drug Store🇺🇸 U.S.

Leading by a wide margin is Japan’s Seven & I Holdings, with 40,454 store locations worldwide.

The retail giant includes the 7-Eleven franchise along with Ito-Yokado, its supermarket chain. While the world’s largest convenience chain traces its origins to Dallas, Texas, the remainder of the U.S-based company (27%) was acquired in 2005 in a $1.2 billion deal that took the company fully private. Today, the company operates in 10 markets globally.

Next in line are Japan’s FamilyMart and Lawson, each boasting over 20,000 locations. For perspective, Walmart, America’s largest retail company by revenues, operates 10,569 locations globally.

In Europe, Germany’s discount grocery chain Schwarz takes the lead, due to its extensive network of stores. Operating across 30 countries and with over 500,000 employees, the no-frills chain stands as a powerhouse. France’s supermarket giant, Carrefour, follows closely behind.

Ranking in eighth is Canadian retailer, Couche-Tard, with stores largely concentrated in North America and Europe. Since 2004, the company has made over 60 acquisitions, including 2,200 gas stations from French oil company TotalEnergies in 2023. The company is known for its Circle K brand, which operates in 24 countries globally.

Closing off the list is Walgreens Boots Alliance, the only American retailer in the rankings. The company owns the ubiquitous UK-based Boots brand, which was founded in 1849 in Nottingham. Yet as profits margins face increasing strains, it is looking to sell the subsidiary and instead focus more heavily on its U.S. pharmacy and healthcare businesses. With a presence in 13 countries, the pharmacy chain operates 12,961 stores worldwide.

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