SIC 3995

This industry includes companies primarily engaged in manufacturing burial caskets, vaults, and cases, including shipping cases, of wood, metal, fiberglass, or other material except concrete.

NAICS Code(s)

339995 (Burial Casket Manufacturing)

Industry Snapshot

High overhead and limited market potential have limited the number of participants in this industry. The complete set of dies necessary to manufacture a metal casket shell is estimated to cost as much as $1 million, not including the cost of the stamping machines in which the dies are used. The Casket & Funeral Supply Association (CFSA) estimated in the late 1990s that fewer than 325 companies were involved in the various aspects of casket manufacturing in the United States.

The Nationwide Summary Estimate of Sales to Funeral Directors for the fiscal year ending March 1999 totaled the value of industry shipments at $1.1 billion. For the same period, shipped metal caskets comprised approximately 68 percent of the total dollar value of caskets shipped, with wood comprising 27 percent and alternative materials such as fiberglass, cardboard, and composite materials making up the final 5 percent. By comparison, in 1995 metals comprised 64.3 percent of industry shipments; wood, 23.7 percent; and alternative materials, 12 percent. In 2000, total industry shipments grew to $1.25 billion, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Organization and Structure

Caskets are generally made of two types of material, wood and metal. Wooden caskets are available in both soft and hardwood. Because they do not generally have a sealing mechanism, wooden caskets are known as nonprotective caskets. Non-protective caskets are not designed to prevent the entrance of air or moisture. Metal caskets are available in carbon steel, copper, bronze, and stainless steel. Carbon steel caskets are available in different gauges, ranging from 20 gauge (the thinnest) to 16 gauge (the thickest). Bronze and copper caskets are available in 32 and 48 ounces of material per square foot. The majority of metal caskets are protective caskets, meaning that they use some type of sealing mechanism, usually a natural rubber gasket, to prevent the entrance of air or moisture into the casket. There are also lower-end metal caskets that are non-protective. Although alternative materials, such as fiberglass or plastics, are also used in casket manufacturing, none of the major U.S. casket manufacturers employs these materials in their shell production.

Casket costs vary according to the type of material the casket is made of, the quality of the construction, and the type of interior used. Also, the most expensive material used to make a casket, bronze, is considered by the industry to be the material most suitable for casket construction due to its strength and natural ability to resist rust. Copper is comparable to bronze, but is a less expensive material. Stainless steel has a higher tensile strength than either bronze or copper and is also a naturally rust resistant material; it is not used as a primary material for shell construction by any major manufacturer other than the Aurora Casket Company of Aurora, Illinois.

In the past, consumer selection of wooden caskets over metal caskets has been governed by regional preferences, with rural areas being more likely to purchase wooden caskets—a material with which the consumer is more familiar. Urban areas have traditionally had higher sales of metal caskets. Marketing wood as a natural and renewable material has contributed to a steady increase in wooden casket sales.

Materials consumed by the casket manufacturing industry include steel and nonferrous metals, in various shapes and forms, and rough and dressed lumber for outer shell construction. The outer shells are typically finished with paints, stains, lacquers, and applied fabric coverings made of wool or felt. Casket hardware consists of cast and forged metals and formed plastics. Interior materials are usually cotton, satin, velvet, or other manmade fabrics.

Background and Development

The U.S. casket industry has its origins in the 1800s. Merchants operating furniture stores were called upon by the community to supply a casket at the time of a death. As time passed, casket manufacturing developed into an industry separate from furniture manufacturing, and the selling moved from the furniture store to the newly emerging funeral parlor.

By the early 1950s, more than 700 casket manufacturing companies existed in the United States, with more than half of the units sold being cloth-covered caskets. (Cloth-covered caskets are generally softwood, composite wood, or high strength cardboard covered in felt.) Availability of sheet steel grew after the end of the Korean War, allowing casket manufacturers to increase production of steel units. As a result of this, by the mid- to late 1970s, almost two-thirds of all caskets were made of metal, with cloth-covered caskets being relegated to the role of inexpensive alternatives.

Current Conditions

The casket manufacturing industry is faced with a unique obstacle to growth that other industries rarely, if ever, face. Annual casket sales are dependent on several variables, the most obvious being the number of deaths for that year. The low U.S. death rate—projected to grow 1 percent annually through 2010—and an increasing number of non-casketed cremations created a somewhat stagnant market throughout the 1990s. The value of shipments increased modestly in the late 1990s, from $1.21 billion in 1997 to $1.25 billion in 2000.

With the rate of cremations projected to increase over the coming years, the major casket manufacturers have needed to position themselves for further changes in the industry. Looking to offset a market with little or no growth, casket manufacturers have started entering market areas formerly left to other vendors. Cremation urns and specialized cremation caskets are being both manufactured and aggressively marketed by companies who had traditionally limited themselves to casket manufacturing and sales. Industry analyst Steven Saltzman sees this trend continuing into the early 2000s, with markers and vaults being added to the types of products supplied.

Traditionally, funeral homes have been the only source of caskets for the retail consumer. But due to the 1994 Federal Trade Commission (FTC) ruling prohibiting funeral homes from charging casket handling fees for caskets purchased from a source other than the funeral home, retail casket stores have started appearing across the United States. These retailers sell their caskets from display rooms, catalogs, and the Internet. Claiming to offer caskets at 40 to 60 percent less than funeral homes, these casket "stores" have become a source of competition for the funeral home industry. While not directly having an adverse effect on the casket manufacturing industry, there is potential for loss of funeral home showroom space for manufacturers that sell to casket stores; funeral homes have been reluctant to carry stock available on the retail market.

Batesville Casket Company, the largest firm in the industry, is so aware of this potential that it does not sell its products to anyone other than a licensed funeral director. According to the International Cemetery & Funeral Management's (ICFM) 1999 informal survey of Internet store, virtual casket stores have had lower than expected sales, with the exception of Casket Royale of Hampton Falls, New Jersey. Casket Royale does not sell directly to the public, however, limiting its sales to third party marketing centers. Funeral homes have also started offering more discount packages, which often offset any savings from third-party purchases.

Increasing manufacturing cost and stagnant market growth seem to indicate that consolidation of the smaller companies is necessary for the continued survival in an industry dominated by Batesville, Aurora, and the York companies. Inventive marketing techniques and product support will be essential to the growth of the casket manufacturing industry. In the late 1990s, The York Group lost sales revenue from Service Corporation International (SCI) when SCI signed a supplier contract with Batesville Casket. However, any loss of revenue from SCI-owned funeral homes is predicted to be offset by an increase in sales to independently-owned funeral homes lashing out at Batesville's deal. Aurora casket, the smallest of the Big Three, has started targeting independents for special discounts to pick up new customers from the Batesville backlash. SCI also tied up the high end of the wood casket supply by purchasing Marsellus Casket. Though not a large company, Marsellus caskets are considered the "Rolls Royce" of wood caskets, being spotlighted at former President Richard Nixon's funeral.

Industry Leaders

In 1996 there were only seven companies producing all of the necessary components for metal caskets. According to the CFSA, of the more than 30 companies that assemble metal caskets, 90 percent are produced by around a dozen companies. Hardwood casket manufacturing is believed to be limited to another dozen companies, with the manufacturing of both metal and hardwood caskets being limited to a very small number of companies as well.

Hillenbrand Industries—located in Batesville, Indiana, and parent company of Batesville Casket—reported revenues of $1.5 million as of October 1999, up 3 percent from 1998 reports. Batesville Casket Company is the largest manufacturer of caskets in the United States. The York Group, Inc. of Houston, Texas, commanded a 15 percent share of the market. The publicly held York had sales of $104,782 as of June 30, 1999, down from the $115,834 reported for the first half of 1998. The third largest manufacturer was privately held Aurora Casket Company of Aurora, Indiana.

Further Reading

Acorn, Linda. "Online Casket Sales: Boom or Bust?" ICFM , July 1999.

"Has a Casket Store Opened in Your Neighborhood Yet?" Batesville Source , March 1997.

"Industry Statistics." American Funeral Director , June 1999.

Saltzman, Steven. "Death Care Industry Still Riding Consolidation Wave." American Funeral Director , June 1998.

United States Census Bureau. "Statistics for Industries and Industry Groups: 2000." Annual Survey of Manufacturers. February 2002. Available from .

"York Announces 1st Quarter Results; Closes Aiken Bronze Plant." CFSA Newsletter , June 1999.

"Your Casket Discount Survey Report" Funeral Service Insider , May 1998.

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