Chapter 16
The funeral sector

Recent and emerging trends in the funeral industry

16.41The funeral industry has changed significantly over the past 100 years, and that change continues. Through our consultation, we have noted a number of significant recent and emerging trends in this industry that are relevant to our consideration as to whether the current regulatory environment is adequate.

Increasing direct involvement by the family

16.42Having moved during the last century from providing a basic service to a comprehensive service, funeral directors are now noting an increasing desire by bereaved families to have greater direct involvement in preparing the funeral or even preparing the body. This may include washing or dressing the body, preparing the casket, digging the plot or lowering the body into the ground.

16.43The desire for more direct involvement can be motivated by religious and cultural practices or by cost. Some ethnic and religious groups, such as Jewish and Muslim groups, prefer to prepare a body for burial themselves. Some families are becoming more selective in choosing which parts of professional funeral services they wish to pay for. For example, some families may only wish to engage a funeral director for the provision of transport and the supply of a coffin.

16.44Many families that desire greater involvement will still wish to engage a funeral director. They see value in having the funeral director’s guidance through the processes and decisions following death. However, there is a small but increasing trend to bypass the services of a funeral director altogether.

Increasing interest in environmentally friendly optionsTop

16.45Environmental concerns are driving a number of changes in funerals in recent years. You can now buy eco-coffins or forgo the coffin altogether and replace it with a shroud. Concerns about the chemicals used in embalming mean that many people are opting to do without embalming or have less embalming.

16.46Our survey of local authorities revealed a growing public interest in natural burials. Typically, this involves the burial of an unembalmed body in a biodegradable casket or shroud in a relatively shallow plot to promote rapid aerobic decomposition of the body. Usually, the plots are marked by plants rather than headstones.318 In Issues Paper 34, we reported two surveys that showed significant support for natural burial.319 A number of local authorities have either established or are planning to establish natural burial sites in their cemeteries, and our consultation revealed interest in the establishment of stand-alone natural burial cemeteries.
16.47Finally, there are a number of alternatives to cremation being promoted in other countries as a more environmentally friendly option than cremation. For example, resomation reduces a dead body to a liquid and a white dust by means of alkaline hydrolysis, and cryomation does something similar using liquid nitrogen. These alternatives are being increasingly accepted in other countries and may be introduced in New Zealand in the future.320

Changes to the structure of funeral service businessesTop

16.48While the funeral sector remains dominated by small to medium-sized owner-operated businesses, often with close connections to the community, the sector is seeing divergent trends. There has been an increase in both one or two-person businesses (often with little or no training and focused on a niche market) and large parent company corporations providing a range of services through subsidiaries.

16.49In relation to cremation, with the advent of smaller, cheaper cremators, there has been a significant increase in the number of crematoria and the private ownership of crematoria. For every crematorium owned by a local authority, there are now three to four that are privately owned and operated, usually by funeral directors. Both these trends are likely to have driven the significant increase in rates of cremation over recent decades.

16.50In recent years, there has also been entry into the New Zealand funeral service market of funeral consultants or arrangers who contract with the consumer to provide funeral services but do not perform any of the services themselves, rather coordinating different funeral service providers to do so. During our consultation, there was some concern, both within the industry and among consumers, about the quality of service offered by some of these providers.

318Law Commission, above n 8, at 532.
319At 533.
320See Parrott, above n 157; Funeral Inspirations “Cryomation” (July 2010) <>.