Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A recession-proof religious business?

"There are very few recession-proof businesses left in the world, but the Cavanagh family of Rhode Island thinks they may have one - they make Communion wafers for millions of churchgoers each week.

"... [S]ales of the company's altar breads are up as much as 5 percent this year, a possible indicator of the national mood. Sales spiked 10 percent after the Sept. 11 attacks."
So begins this Boston Globe article. This is simple supply and demand at work. If the demand for church attendance increases during a recession, then the demand for certain supplies used during religious group meetings may also go up. Thus, their business is not just recession-proof; it is probably countercyclical: sales are highest during a recession and lowest during economic expansion.

But other factors not associated with a recession can also affect demand:
"The company noticed a dip in Catholic Church attendance reflected in lower sales in the early part of this decade after the church sex abuse scandal broke."
Again, this is basic supply and demand at work. The scandal decreased demand for church attendance, thus lessening the demand for wafers.

One of the more surprising things is that the Cavanagh Co. has an 80% market share in the U.S. I do not have a good explanation for why they maintain such a dominant market position. Any ideas?

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