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NAICS: 33-9995 Burial Casket Manufacturing

SIC: 3995 Burial Casket Manufacturing

NAICS-Based Product Codes: 33-99951, 33-999511, 33-99951101, 33-999512, 33-99951206, 33-99953, 33-999531, 33-99953101, 33-99953106, 33-99955, 33-999551 and 33-99955100


A casket, or a coffin, is a box that holds a deceased body. The term casket is thought to be a North American euphemism, for a casket properly defined is a box to hold jewelry. The word coffin has a similar meaning, taken from the Greek word for basket. The terms casket and coffin are often used interchangeably. However, they denote boxes of different design. Coffins typically have tapered edges and tend to be hexagonal or octagonal in shape. Caskets are more rectangular—a standard box. The lid is also split in such a way that allows the deceased to be viewed during a visitation, memorial service, or funeral if so desired by the family or in a will.

The casket industry has its roots in the woodworking traditions of the early 1800s. The funeral director was then known as the undertaker. The undertaker was also the local furniture maker. They had the skills and tools to manufacture caskets, and did so on an as-needed basis. By the late 1800s casket manufacturing developed as a distinct business and the manufacturers devoted their efforts to the production and sale of coffins and caskets.

Caskets are typically made of wood, metal, or cloth. Cloth-covered caskets were the best-selling types of casket for decades. In 1950 more than half of all caskets sold were cloth-covered. Such caskets are made of particleboard or cardboard and are finished with a cloth covering. They are simple in construction and are shape and the least expensive form of casket available.

There are four major types of metal caskets: sealed steel, unsealed steel, copper/bronze, and stainless. Sealed steel (also known as gasketed) caskets are constructed from 16-gauge, 18-gauge, and 20-gauge metal (16-gauge is the heaviest, 20-gauge the lightest). A rubber gasket is used to seal the casket at the point of closure. Sealed caskets have continuous welds at seams and in the corners. Various glues and epoxies are used to guarantee a tight, durable seal. Thicker-gauge caskets may have more complicated shapes, such as rounded or urn-shaped corners. Lighter gauges are more likely to have traditional square edges. Sealed caskets represent approximately three-quarters of all steel unit sales.

Non-sealed steel gaskets are less expensive than their sealed counterparts. They are made of the thinnest-gauge steel. They do not have the continuous welds at seams and corners, as do the sealed gaskets. It is interesting to note that this is a product category in which the top two manufacturers do not compete head-to-head in all major product categories. York manufactures both sealed and unsealed gaskets. Batesville, the largest casket maker, produces only sealed models.

Stainless steel caskets are more expensive than regular steel caskets. They are almost always sealed. They may have rounded or square edges. Copper or bronze caskets are the most expensive types of caskets available, although some exotic woods are used to make caskets that are also very expensive. These caskets also allow for finishes with more luster than other metal versions.

Hardwood caskets include pine, cottonwood, maple, cherry, hickory, and mahogany. The wood has a glossy finish and may be hand polished. This, of course, adds to the cost. Wood caskets do not have a sealing mechanism and are known as nonprotective caskets.


About 1.8 million caskets are sold in the United States each year. This represents approximately $1.4 billion in casket sales per year based on retail prices through funeral homes and casket stores.

The value of all shipments of caskets in the United States is an accounting of the wholesale value of caskets and does not include retail mark-ups or bundled funeral service fees which are included in the $1.4 billion annual sales estimate for all caskets. The value of manufacturer's shipments is provided by the U.S. Census Bureau in its Annual Survey of Manufactures. In 2005 shipments of burial caskets were valued at $860.2 million. The 2005 shipments were slightly higher than those recorded in 2004, when they were valued at $843.7 million. Total casket and coffin shipments have been declining slowly since 1997, when total shipments were valued at $1.17 billion.

Metal caskets and coffin shipments were valued at $490.5 million in 2005, or 57 percent of total shipments. In 2002 total shipments were $778.6 million and metal caskets were 66 percent of this total. Wood caskets and coffin shipments were valued at $184 million in 2005, or 21.3 percent of total shipments. Shipments of wood caskets and coffins were $273.2 million in 2002. Wood caskets and coffins represented 23 percent of total shipments in that year. Both of these categories refer to completely lined and trimmed caskets and coffins for adults. Other types of caskets and coffins shipments, valued at $125.8 million, include burial boxes and vaults (except concrete and stone), casket shells, casket shipping containers and cases, and caskets and coffins for children. This category has been increasing steadily since at least 1997, when shipments were $65.8 million.

Cloth-covered caskets were the most popular types of caskets for many years. In the late 1950s sheet metal became more readily available, thus production of steel caskets could be increased. In 1960, consumers began to favor steel caskets for the first time. According to the Casket and Funeral Supply Association, it was during the 1960s that steel surpassed cloth-covered caskets, with 44 percent to 34 percent market shares, respectively. By 1980 the preference for metal caskets peaked. Steel took a 69 percent share of the market. Wood caskets seem to be gaining in popularity again. Hardwood was thought to have represented 17 percent of all caskets sold in 2000, up from 12 percent in 1980. Steel represented 60 percent of all sales in 2000, cloth covered 14 percent, copper/bronze 3 percent, and stainless steel 4 percent. Children's caskets accounted for 2 percent of sales since 1990.

Part of the reason for the rise in hardwoods is that consumers see them as more attractive looking. Such wood may also be perceived as more natural. Such perceptions are related to the rise in cremations. Noticing this trend, casket manufacturers have also marketed wood caskets specifically designed for cremations.


The first casket producers were small companies serving local markets. It was not difficult for a company to manufacture the cloth-based caskets that were popular during this period. Such caskets could be manufactured with saws, drills and other general-purpose machinery. However, the metal caskets that became popular in the late 1950s were more difficult for companies to manufacture. Working with metal meant significant capital costs in metal stamping, bending, cutting, and grinding equipment. It also meant greater investments in painting and finishing systems.

These factors helped drive industry consolidation. Another factor influencing the industry was the fact that casket demand in North America has remained steady at approximately 1.8 million units in recent years. Some analysts even forecast a decline in sales as more people choose cremation. Without increased demand, the main opportunity for growth for a company was to take market share from other casket makers.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau detail the change in the industry. In the early 1950s there were over 700 casket manufacturers with more than 20,000 employees in the industry. By 1967 the Census Bureau reported 523 establishments in the industry with 16,800 employees. In 1992 the establishment count was down to 211 and employed stood at 7,800 persons. Five years later there were 173 establishments employing 6,792 persons. Further declines were experienced thereafter and by 2002, the Census reported 164 establishments employing just 5,069 persons.

Batesville Casket Company

This company is the largest casket maker in the United States, representing almost half of all casket sales. It is headquartered in Batesville, Indiana. The company can trace its roots back to John Hillenbrand who began making wood caskets in 1884. In 1904 Hillenbrand purchased the Batesville Coffin Company, and renamed it Batesville Casket Company. The company manufactures all types of cloth-covered, hardwood, metal, and copper/bronze sealed (gasketed) caskets. It also manufactures related products, such as urns, containers, and other memorialization products used in cremations. It is a division of Hillenbrand Industries, which reported having 9,800 employees and sales of $1,962.9 million for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2006.

The York Group

Second largest of the casket makers in the United States, The York Group began as The York Wagon Gear Company. It manufactured wooden carriages, but in 1892 switched to manufacturing wooden caskets. In the late 1990s the company acquired a number of casket companies as part of an aggressive expansion plan. They also acquired firms that manufactured goods related to the funeral industry, such as urns and memorials. The York Group's parent company, Matthew International, employs 4,000 people and reported sales of $715.9 million for the fiscal year ending September 2006.

Aurora Casket Company, Inc.

This company is the third largest casket maker in the United States. It is also the largest privately owned casket company and is headquartered in Aurora, Indiana. The third largest casket maker employs 700 people, many of whom are descendents of previous workers. Colonel John J. Blackman founded the company in 1890. It manufactures approximately 150,000 caskets annually. It also makes urns and grave markers.

These three firms dominate the industry. Each has acquired competitors during the 1990s, a period of great consolidation within the industry. The York Group acquired Sacramento Casket Co. and Houston Casket Co. In 1998 the Aurora Group acquired Mountain States Casket Co. and J&B Casket Co. It acquired Clarksburg Casket Co. in 2000 and Hastings Casket Co. in 2003. In 1993 Batesville acquired casket makers in Canada and Mexico to lock in its control of the North American market. These companies also acquired urn, wood, and metal manufacturing companies.

The top three firms represent nearly 80 percent of casket sales based on units and dollars. Other manufacturers include Southern Heritage, Goliath Caskets, Astra Caskets, Freeman Metal, and Victoriaville.


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, casket makers consumed $360.4 million worth of materials in 2002, up from $325.6 million in 1997.

The most expensive materials consumed by casket manufacturers are the woods and metals needed for the production process. Bronze is the most expensive metal, and is preferred by the casket industry 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. Metal is also necessary for handles and other hardware.

Rough and dressed lumber is needed for the construction of the casket or the outer shell. Wood is becoming a popular choice for caskets again. This will mean an increased need for hardwoods such as pine, mahogany, and oak. 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. Urban areas have traditionally had higher sales of metal caskets.

Manufacturers also use paints, stains, and lacquers on the outer shell of the casket to give it as attractive an appearance as possible. Some wood finishes are applied by hand, which adds to the cost. Casket hardware consists of cast and forged metals and formed plastics. Interior fabrics are usually made of materials such as cotton, satin, wool, or velvet.


For many years, funeral homes were the only source for caskets for the consumer. There were several important government regulations that opened the door for change.

In 1984 the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) passed a series of regulations known as the Funeral Rule. This set of funeral industry rules was established to protect the grieving families of the recently deceased from being easily taken advantage of by funeral homes. The rule required funeral homes to disclose their prices for goods and services with potential clients in a general price list. This allows consumers to compare prices for various services among funeral homes. Funeral homes must also disclose these prices over the phone. In 1994 the FTC also prohibited funeral homes from charging handling fees for caskets purchased from a source other than the funeral home. The new rules offered other protections for consumers, such as forbidding funeral directors from insisting that embalming is necessary for deaths (it is not) and from touting the preservative qualities of a casket (decomposition of the body will still take place).

The new legislation shed light on the fees charged by the funeral homes. In 2007 the average casket was $2,000, and represented half the cost of a modestly priced funeral. The funeral plot cost another several thousand dollars. The casket is often priced well above its wholesale cost to provide revenue for the funeral home. The industry drew criticism because many funeral homes charged high fees for handling a casket they had not provided.

With the new rules prohibiting such activities, the market was effectively opened to third-party casket retailers. There are an estimated 300 casket stores in the United States. These discount casket dealers may operate out of an actual storefront or an electronic storefront (a Web-based retail site). Casket retailers have names such as CasketXpress and Funeral Depot and sell caskets for a fraction of the funeral home cost. But even larger retailers are getting into the market. In December 2004 popular discount retailer Costco started selling caskets in its stores.

Many funeral homes have accepted the presence of these third-party retailers. They do not discourage consumers purchasing caskets from such outlets. Some funeral directors work with consumers, encouraging them to inspect the caskets they purchase through these outlets, for example. Often the funeral homes have prices that are competitive enough that the discount from the discount retailers is negligible. These discount retailers represent only a fraction of all caskets sold annually. In other words, most consumers still purchase caskets from funeral homes.

Because the casket industry is not seeing increasing demand, manufacturers have focused on customer service. The three major casket makers all have their own distribution networks. When a funeral director calls one of them with an order, the casket is typically delivered within 24 hours. The third-party retailers function in much the same way. These companies often partner within someone to aid in the transportation of the casket. A consumer browses the Web site of Funeral Depot, for example, and selects a casket. Funeral Depot calls one of its partners to verify the availability of the casket from the manufacturer. The manufacturer then drop-ships the casket to the partner firm. The partner firm delivers the casket to the funeral home for a fee or it holds the casket until Funeral Depot can arrange to pick it up.

Critics of the funeral industry have noted that many funeral homes participate in subtle but manipulative marketing techniques, such as presenting inexpensive caskets in unattractive colors in their showrooms. The more expensive caskets, in turn, are made to be more appealing with handsome finishes or are shown in better displays. The casket industry is, in short, highly competitive. In 2005 Hillenbrand Industries (owner of Batesville, the largest casket maker) was named as a co-conspirator in a price-fixing lawsuit. The lawsuit accused the top three funeral home operators (Alderwoods Group, Service Corp., and Stewart Enterprises) and Hillenbrand of conspiring to sell only Batesville Casket models. Customers were also forced to pay inflated prices. The lawsuit also alleged Hillenbrand was forced to ban casket sales to discount chains, independent stores and Internet retailers. The lawsuit, which had yet to make its way through the courts as of early 2007, was the first of its kind to pit funeral homes against discount casket dealers.


Demand for caskets has been steady at aproximately 1.8 million units annually. Some analysts even estimate a shrinking demand.

There are several factors that help explain this. The number of deaths is increasing modestly, with annual deaths in the United States at 2.5 million. The population is aging, but is also tending to live longer. Health care has improved. Batesville noted in its most recent report that the most recent flu seasons have been mild and resulted in few deaths. Also total deaths each year include body donations and casketless cremations.

Demand is affected by an increasing preference for cremations over traditional burials. The cremation rate began to increase slightly in 1960. In that year there were 60,987 cremations in the United States, equating to 3.56 percent of all deaths, according to the Cremation Association of North America. In 1980 the rate had climbed steadily to 9.72 percent of all deaths. A year later it was over 11 percent of all deaths. By 1994 the rate had nearly doubled to 21 percent. In 2005 there were an estimated 778,025 cremations, or 32 percent of all deaths. The rate varies by state, of course. In Arizona, Hawaii, California, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Colorado over half of all consumers chose cremation over traditional burial (Washington's rate was the highest at 64.01 percent in 2005). By 2010 the projected cremation rate in the United States will be 33.7 percent of all deaths.

For a direct cremation a cardboard box is normally used. Those who wish to have a funeral visitation (sometimes called a viewing) or traditional funeral service will use a coffin of some sort. But it is also possible to rent a regular casket for the duration of the service. These caskets have a removable bed and liner, which is replaced after each use. There is also a rental casket where there is an outer shell that looks like a traditional coffin. The deceased is placed in a cardboard box that fits inside the shell. At the end of the service the inner box is removed and the deceased is cremated inside this box.


There is, of course, a strong relationship between casket makers and the funeral industry. For a period of time some casket makers had their facilities close to cemeteries and funeral homes. But with demand for caskets basically static, the large casket makers have had to develop new relationships with the 22,000 funeral homes, 115,000 cemeteries, and 1,155 crematoriums in the United States.

Casket manufacturing companies have begun to manufacture other products related to the funeral industry. Many manufacture urns, memorials, display furniture, hardware and mortuary equipment. Matthew International, owner of the York Group, is the top cremation equipment maker in North America. It also builds mausoleums and is the country's top manufacturer of urns, bronze memorials, and commemorative plaques.

Funeral homes are the largest market for casket makers. Most funeral homes are family run operations and have been in operation an average for 47 years. Service Corp. International is the largest corporate provider of funerals in the United States. Alderwoods Group, Stewart Enterprises, and Carriage Services are the other leading funeral service providers. The top five chains represent approximately 20 percent of the market.


The casket industry is very competitive, and new models and products appear regularly at annual trade shows. New models have increased in recent years, which is an interesting development, as models tend to stay in the market for 10 to 15 years.

Batesville recently advertised the merits of its new line of wood caskets. The veneer process offers improved structural integrity and eliminates the natural defects that are found in wood. The new veneer process also uses 95 percent of the wood, which cuts down on the waste associated with more traditional veneer processes.

The York Group recently got its new write-on casket model to market. The write-on model allows mourners to write final goodbyes to the deceased directly onto the casket. York's most significant development in recent years was its York Management System in 1997. Previously, consumers would select a finished casket from a funeral showroom. The new system featured partial sample caskets, displays of lining material, and a selection of handles and other hardware. Some of this was to ease what is a difficult task for consumers. But the prevailing theory was that when given a wide range of choices, consumers would gravitate toward the higher-priced goods.

This theory proved correct. One funeral director was quoted as saying it was the first new innovation in casket manufacturing in 75 years. Considering the sales figures, other funeral directors surely agreed with him. York's first 50 displays showed an average gain of $438 per sale under the new system. More than 500 funeral homes were using the York system at the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century.


The most interesting development in the industry is the rise of green burials. The term generally refers to cremations or full-body burial with no embalming fluids and a biodegradable wooden box or shroud. Many proponents of green burials feel that the cost of a casket and traditional funeral are prohibitive. Some people choose to be buried in a meaningful spot. For example, some people have had their remains sunk into coral reefs. In another unusual example, James Doohan, "Scotty" of the television show Star Trek, elected to have his remains shipped into space.

A casket may be custom-designed. It might be airbrushed or have a specialty finish, for example. Some people are choosing caskets modeled into specific shapes, such as guitar cases. One company is experimenting with computer-generated murals placed on the casket. A few individuals have confessed to sleeping in coffins. Some of these people are being deliberately provocative, but there is among this group of people a small subset who genuinely believe themselves to be vampires.

In an increasing number of cases, specialized caskets are a necessity. As obesity rates increase in America, so have the demand for oversized caskets. For years, caskets were built with a standard inside shoulder width of 22 inches to 24 inches. Some companies are now producing caskets with widths from 28 inches to 44 inches. Batesville introduced a line of oversized caskets in October 2004 that they report have been very successful. Southern Heritage, which makes only steel caskets, reports oversized caskets now represent 20 percent of its sales. Goliath Caskets, who specialize in plus-size caskets measuring up to 52 inches in width, recently claimed to be "very, very busy." They manufacture 600-800 oversized caskets each year.

In short, more people are customizing their funerals. The funeral industry has been quick to respond to customers' desires for individualized memorial services. There are now funeral coordinators to organize and stage the service. Music that had meaning to the deceased is played during the service. One can arrange for photos and movies of a loved one to be put on a DVD and distributed to mourners. A funeral service might be broadcast live on the Internet for family and friends to watch if they can't be there in person. The Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, resting place of many Hollywood stars, is a high-profile example of changes in the industry. They host movie nights and walking tours of the grounds. They also offer digital memorialization packages—film, audio, and biographical information of the deceased—that range in price from $400 to over $4,000. As Brent Cassidy, one of the funeral directors notes, "Instead of just going to the cemetery and saying to your daughter, 'Well, here's your grandfather—I really wish you could have met him,' you can actually introduce her to him."

Even the image of funeral directors is changing. The television show Six Feet Under ran from 2001–2005 on HBO. It featured a family of funeral directors and received many Emmy awards. In old movies, the town undertaker was often seen as a sinister fellow dressed all in black. This has changed greatly. Approximately half of those graduating from funeral service programs were women in the first decade of the 2000s, and the average age of graduates was the late 20s. Two-thirds of graduates had no prior direct family relationship with the funeral service business. This new breed of funeral director even has sex appeal. The first Men of Mortuaries Calendar—featuring good-looking funeral home directors—was published at the beginning of 2007.


Caskets still remain the preferred method of burial. This will be the case for some time to come. People still like the traditional funeral, with a coffin and flowers in the front of a church. Cremation is gaining in popularity, true. But some people do find it distasteful. It goes against the religious or cultural beliefs of others. The type of casket purchased by the consumer will vary. Casket makers may have to follow funeral directors and offer more personalized services: more high-end, expensive hardwood caskets, or caskets composed of more environmentally friendly materials in coming years.


Casket and Funeral Supply Association,

Cremation Association of North America, International

Conference of Funeral Service Examining Boards,

National Casket Retailers Association,

National Funeral Directors Association,

National Funeral Directors and Morticians Association, http://www.nfdma.


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