Over 80% of the caskets in the United States are produced by Batesville Casket Company and Matthews International Corporation.
These two companies manufacture their caskets at factories in Indiana, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Mexico, and Canada.
This article examines where caskets in the United States are manufactured and how the monopolization of the casket industry has led to them being manufactured in the United States.
Batesville Casket Company Caskets
The Batesville Casket Company is one of the two largest casket producers in the United States. Batesville assembles all of their caskets in four manufacturing plants that are located in Batesville, Indiana, Chihuahua, Mexico, Manchester, Tennessee, and Vicksburg, Mississippi.
Batesville historically had more manufacturing facilities. However, as the number of cremations has risen and the demand for caskets has decreased, Batesville has had to close down their smaller facilities.
Most recently, in 2017 the Batesville, Mississippi facility, which used to produce wooden caskets, was closed, and the production of wooden caskets was consolidated into the Mexico facility.
Batesville Casket Company is a subsidiary of Hillenbrand Industries. In total, Batesville employs more than 2,400 associates across the United States. The largest manufacturing facility is in Batesville, Indiana. The Batesville, Indiana facility has 600 employees and produces one casket every minute of a production shift.
Part of Batesville’s strength comes from its wide variety of casket options for its customers. Their caskets come in a wide range of materials, including bronze, copper, stainless steel, and hardwood caskets, and in a wide range of styles.
Batesville offers more than 325 standard model caskets as well as numerous customizable options.
Matthews International Corporation Caskets
The other main casket producer in the United States is Matthews International Corporation. All of the caskets produced by Matthews International Corporation are created by Matthews Aurora Funeral Solutions.
Matthews was founded in 1850 as a company that manufactured military stamping dies, branding irons, ornate engraving, and stamps for wooden crates. It wasn’t until 2001 that Matthews created its Casket Division and began producing caskets.
Since 2001, Matthews has expanded its reach by acquiring other casket manufacturing companies. In 2015, Matthews purchased Aurora Casket Company, and the two combined to form Matthews Aurora Funeral Solutions.
Matthews Aurora Funeral Solutions produces caskets in manufacturing facilities located in Aurora, Indiana, Richmond, Indiana, and York, Pennsylvania. Matthews also acquires many of its caskets from Victoriaville & Company, Inc., a casket manufacturing plant in New Brunswick, Canada.
Like Batesville, Matthews has had to consolidate its manufacturing plants as the demand for caskets has decreased in recent years. In 2019, Matthews closed its Richmond, Indiana facility and expanded production at the Aurora, Indiana facility.
Casket Manufacturing Is a Duopoloy
Casket manufacturing in the United States is a duopoly because just two companies dominate their manufacture. Together they monopolize the market.
Approximately 2.4 million Americans die each year. Of these, about 40% choose to be buried and, as a result, need a casket. Even people who choose to be cremated still need some sort of enclosure for transportation and cremation.
While a cardboard box or burnable bag would do, most people prefer to give their loved ones a nicer temporary resting place. As a result, the casket industry has continued to thrive despite the decrease in demand for burial caskets.
The casket industry in the United States, a $550 million business, is one of the largest monopolies in the world. Decades of consolidation have caused the number of casket manufacturers to decrease.
Today, 82% of the casket industry market share is controlled by the two industry behemoths: Batesville Casket Company and Matthews International Corporation.
In fact, according to the Open Markets Institute, the casket industry is one of the most consolidated industries in the United States. To put it in perspective, the casket industry is even more consolidated than the domestic airline industry.
The duopoly has grown so strong that the leading companies are able to set the price of caskets in America. Today, the average cost of a casket in the United States is $2,300. However, specialized caskets can cost as much as $45,000.
Most publications estimate that casket manufacturers make a 300-500% profit on the standard caskets that they sell.
Cheaper casket options do exist. Recently, major retailers like Amazon, Walmart, and Costco have all started selling standard caskets for about $1,000. However, most people still buy their caskets from Batesville and Matthews for three main reasons:
1. Batesville and Matthews have strong relationships with funeral homes.
Both casket manufacturers have the power and clout to entice funeral homes to only sell their caskets to clients. This allows them to corner a large percentage of the market.
2. Most people are not interested in “shopping around” when planning a funeral.
Therefore, they will likely buy whatever caskets are most convenient. In the case of most Americans, these are the caskets that are either available at the funeral home or are well-advertised.
Thanks to their clout, Batesville and Matthews are able to spend millions each year on advertising. They are also able to use their influence to form strong bonds with funeral homes around the country. Therefore, they are able to make sure that they are the first (and only) caskets that people see when they begin planning a funeral.
3. There are still laws in place that protect the casket monopoly.
In the early 20th century when the casket making industry began to expand, states began enacting laws to control the market. Many states passed laws that only licensed funeral directors were able to handle caskets.
Though these laws were largely put in place for tax and health reasons, they had the added side effect of influencing who can build, buy, and sell caskets. In about a dozen states, these laws still exist today.
In states with these laws, only licensed funeral directors and casket manufacturers are allowed to produce or store caskets. These licenses can be difficult to obtain, making it nearly impossible for new casket manufacturers to enter the market.
History of Coffin Manufacturing in the United States
The first caskets in the United States were made by the local cabinet and furniture makers who doubled as undertakers. However, during the Civil War, thousands of caskets were needed to transport dead soldiers, and the first casket manufacturing companies were founded.
In the 1840s, the first non-wooden caskets were introduced by Dr. Almond Fisk. Fish claimed that unlike wooden caskets, his new steel caskets were airtight and indestructible.
The 1847 Rural Cemetery Act, which allowed for the establishment of the country’s first nondenominational for-profit cemetery corporations, paved the way for the establishment of the casket industry.
Seeing the potential for the casket industry, Batesville Casket Company began slowly buying up small casket manufacturing companies to consolidate the market.
By the early 1920s, Batesville Casket Company was mass-producing metal caskets. However, casket manufacturers hit hard times when, in the 1940s, casket production was halted to conserve metal and wood for the war effort. Caskets during this time were instead made of cloth-covered cardboard.
However, not all casket companies were negatively impacted by WWII. A select few, including Batesville Casket Company, were hired by the US military to make caskets for soldiers. These government contracts gave companies like Batesville an advantage and further consolidated the casket market.
At the end of World War II, metal and wood caskets were once again mass-produced. According to the Casket & Funeral Supply Association of America (CFSA), there were over 700 casket manufacturers in the United States by the early 1950s.
However, consolidation of the market continued. Today, less than a dozen manufacturers assemble more than 90% of all metal caskets in the United States, and Batesville and Matthews control approximately 82% of the market share.
Challenges for the Casket Industry
Today, the casket industry is facing some unique challenges that will shape how the industry evolves in the future. Some of these challenges include:
1. The rise of cremation is altering demand.
As cremation rises, the demand for cremation caskets and urns is rising, while the demand for burial caskets is falling. While the overall demand for burial containers has remained relatively constant, the shift in the market has forced manufacturing companies to evolve.
2. Customized caskets are becoming more popular
It’s becoming more and more trendy to get customized caskets. With the rise of individuality in America, the desire for individualized caskets has also grown. In fact, 75% of the caskets Batesville makes are customized in some way (Exterior color, exterior etchings, handles, interior color, fabrics, embroidery, etc.).
Large manufacturers have an advantage because they are able to create customized caskets that are still delivered to the funeral home within 24-48 hours. Casket manufacturers will have to continue finding ways to match the desire for customization and the need for immediate delivery.
3. Budget caskets are gaining a foothold
In the early 2010s, Chinese caskets began entering the American market and major retailers, such as Amazon, Walmart, and Costco, began selling cheaper caskets.
Hillenbrand has estimated that imported caskets only account for about 5% of the market in the United States. However, as casket prices and cremation rates continue to rise, it is likely that more and more Americans will opt for cheaper cremation caskets.
The Duopoly Causes Caskets to Be Made in America
If you purchase a casket in the United States, there is a very good chance that it was built in one of Batesville or Matthews’ manufacturing facilities.
Though the monopolization of the casket industry has raised casket prices, it has also centered the majority of casket manufacturing within the United States and ensured that Americans know where their caskets are coming from.
Casket Styles in the United States
When casket manufacturing companies produce standard caskets, there are several variables that they must decide on.
1. Casket or coffin
They must decide whether they are producing a casket or a coffin. While most people use those words interchangeably, they are actually two different types of burial container:
- Coffins: Coffins are six-sided burial containers that are wider by the shoulders and narrow by the feet to mirror the shape of the person inside.
- Caskets: Caskets are rectangular, four-sided burial containers. Caskets are the more common burial container in the United States.
2. Which material to use
They must choose a material for the exterior of the casket. Coffins can be made of a variety of materials. The most common include:
- Wood: Wooden caskets are made of various soft and hardwoods, including Mahogany, Walnut, Cherry, Maple, Oak, Pine, Poplar, and Veneer.
- Metal: Metal caskets are constructed from bronze, copper, carbon steel, or stainless steel. Most metal caskets are fitted with a rubber gasket to further protect the body of the deceased from the elements.
- Particle Board/Cloth: Particle board and cloth caskets are highly economical alternatives to the more expensive wood and metal options. Particle board/cloth caskets are used primarily for cremations.
3. The material for the interior of the casket
They must choose a material for the interior of the casket. The interior of caskets are typically lined with crepe or velvet fabric. Most caskets will also come with a built-in raised pillow for the deceased’s head.
4. Design of the lid
Finally, they must decide how to design the lid. Casket lids come in two styles: half couch and full couch.
Full couch refers to a lid that is one solid piece.
Half couch refers to a lid that is split into two pieces. This allows half of the casket to be open at a time. This is typically more popular for open-casket funerals because it allows you to show just the head and upper torso of the deceased.
Customized caskets include additional construction and design considerations.