Consumer goods giants are adopting a "if you can't beat 'em, buy 'em" strategy, pushing mergers and acquisition (M&A) deals to a 15-year high last year, according to a survey from OC&C Strategy Consultants released today.

Mergers in consumer goods companies increased 45% from 2016. The value of those deals increased 190%. The survey analyzed the top 50 companies in international consumer goods based on sales.

Larger consumer goods companies like Unilever (UN) are increasingly under pressure from startup brands so they are turning to buying new companies to foster growth. The value of deals increased 190% last year. Unilever’s acquisitions included Tazo Tea for $384 million and condiment brand Sir Kensington’s for $140 million.

The Digital Edge in Consumer Goods

"The balance of power has shifted as some of the traditional scale advantages that the major brand owners enjoyed (like having scale manufacturing, big sales forces, ability to advertise on TV, attract good people to work for them) have been eroded by digital technologies, which have enabled smaller businesses to grow more successfully than in the past," said Will Hayllar, co-leader of the global consumer goods team at OC&C, told CNBC in an email.

Consumer goods companies are employing a variety of strategies with the mergers. Some are snapping up technology-savvy companies to adjust to consumers’ changing buying habits, and others are making acquisitions in faster-growing markets. (See also: 6 Companies Kraft Heinz Could Swallow Next.)

“While the underlying challenges ... to restore organic growth and satisfy activist investors seeking margin improvement have not gone away ... [companies] are actively addressing those challenges and using M&A as a key tool to do so," said Hayllar.

Sluggish Sales Growth

Overall sales among the consumer goods companies surveyed increased only 2.6% in 2017 as volume increased 0.6%. With the newly acquired companies, however, sales increased 5.7%, the highest increased in six years.

For example, AB InBev (BUD) acquired SAB Miller in 2016, and it reported sales growth of 24% last year. Without the acquisition factored in, sales increased only 5.1%.

Want to learn how to invest?

Get a free 10 week email series that will teach you how to start investing.

Delivered twice a week, straight to your inbox.