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The death care industry in Quebec marked by the triumph of David versus Goliath

Marcos Barros, professeur associé à Grenoble Ecole de Management, au sein du département Homme, Organisations et Société
Published on
23 November 2018

How were Quebec funeral cooperatives able to push back against major players in the global death care industry? Despite an open market and stiff competition, local funeral coops were able to revamp their competitiveness thanks to a mix of initiatives.

We speak with Marcos Barros, an associate professor at Grenoble Ecole de Management in the department of People, Organizations and Society. He is the co-author of an international publication in collaboration with Luc Audebrand, an associate professor at the Université de Laval in Quebec.

In the 90s, Quebec's local death care industry faced competition from multinational giants. What was the context during this time period?

The death care industry in Quebec was initially a local one. During the 90s, the local market was entered by major international companies that created strong inequalities in terms of services provided during a very delicate time period for people. In a manner of speaking, it amounted to an “exploitation” of consumers.

Funeral coops were able to reduce the impact of services that were traditionally quite expensive. For example, in 1972 the average cost of funeral services in Quebec was 19% higher than the Canadian average. By 1989, the cost was already 8.9% lower. The coop network wanted to fight the dominating presence of multinationals in order to reduce the cost of service and increase quality thanks to support and advice for customers.

What factors were key to change this model?

Starting in the 90s, a new model for funeral coops emerged. It was supported by a social and citizen movement in reaction to multinationals. This cooperative movement started by relying on communication through media to garner public support. Their efforts served to demonstrate the advantages of funeral coops. Ad campaigns were implemented to disrupt the common perception that coop services translated to low cost services. At the same time, the coop model received support from within the Quebecois government thanks to the nomination of  a minister in charge of the death care industry and the publication of a report on the subject.

Another key factor was the desire to grow the movement by sharing resources amongst coops and also buy out private funeral homes. The idea was to reach a critical mass at a national level and thus demonstrate the ability of the coop network to grow by itself.

From 1990 to 2005, the coop network expanded its influence in Quebec…

According to the Quebecois federation of funeral coops, the number of funeral homes grew from 3,300 to 7,500. Their market share increased from 7 to 13.6% and their active assets were multiplied by five. The network had more than 100 service locations with 140,000 members. Its annual turnover went from 7.5 to 30 million dollars.

What are the primary advantages of the Quebecois cooperative model?

There are three key points: support and advice for families, much lower prices, and a demystification of funeral services thanks to, in particular, the implementation of open door days. It's important to take note of the support and psychological counselling that takes place in advance of the funeral service and is a natural process.

* Source : Fédération Québécoise de Coopératives Funéraires.

The Quebecois funeral cooperative network in 2017

  • 19 funeral coops
  • More than 200,000 members
  • More than 100 service locations
  • More than 600 employees
  • 315 volunteer administrators recognized for their commitment to the sector
  • A turnover of almost 53 million dollars
  • Market share of 18%
  • 253 million dollars in active assets
  • More than 11,000 families served per year

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