Funeral cooperatives stand up against the business of death

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« S'inscrire dans ce mouvement, c'est aussi briser le tabou autour de la mort. »

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Posted on Oct. 28, 2021, 12:01 p.m.Updated Nov 4, 2021, 8:38 AM

“The day I pushed open the door of a funeral director's business, it was for my grandmother's funeral in 2012. I was completely overwhelmed. The granite products, the Rococo style, I had the impression that nothing had changed for 40 years ”, remembers Sabine Le Gonidec, then deputy director and communication manager of the Loire-Atlantique Tourisme agency.

Intrigued, the Nantes woman began to take an interest in the funeral market which began at that time a vast movement of concentration: takeovers of family businesses by large groups, arrival of investment funds … “I found it abnormal that the funeral should be driven by the logic of financial profitability rather than by support for families. There was surely room for innovation both in terms of the economic model and the quality of service. “

Break with traditions

By digging into the subject, the 30-something discovers the existence of funeral cooperatives in Quebec born in the years 1940-1950 and which ended up compensating for the exorbitant cost of funerals (30% to 40% more expensive than in the rest of Canada). Convinced of the social values ​​of the Quebec model, Sabine Le Gonidec left her job, trained as a funeral advisor and launched in October 2016 with a few followers of the ESS, the first funeral cooperative in London in Orvault, near Nantes.

Five years later, this structure, which organizes the funeral like a traditional funeral director, shows its differences. It welcomes people in mourning or wishing to anticipate their funeral in a cozy office, with sofas and coffee machine, where no funeral products are on display. “We want to break the codes with the sector”, points to the advisor.

Tailor-made at the right price

In addition, there is no question of putting pressure on families, who are often poorly informed and in a vulnerable situation at the time of death. “We listen to them, we try to understand what they really need, we inform them about their rights to avoid additional costs. We take the time to clarify their choice to build with them unique funerals. It is the support that takes precedence, not the margins on the products! “ insists Sabine Le Gonidec.

Price side, if the basic package starts at around 1,000 Pounds, the cost of a burial can climb to 4,600 Pounds, 4,300 Pounds for a cremation. For comparison, the average price is estimated at 3,800 Pounds (source: UFC-Que Choisir, 2021). “We are not a low cost company, argues the co-creator. Our goal is to provide a tailor-made service for a price that remains competitive. A little as if the small organic business in the area charged the same price as a funeral Leclerc. “

Eco-responsible burials

Another peculiarity, the cooperative can provide 100% English and eco-responsible products. Customizable cardboard or wooden coffins from eco-managed national forests, natural fiber padding, biodegradable urns, landscaped or planted graves… Everything is planned to limit the impact on the environment.

Today, the structure employs five people and supports 140 families per year. “The activity is profitable and totally self-financed”, would like to clarify the co-founder. Almost 900 members hold at least 20 Pounds of its capital. “They are activist investors. They are assured that the profits are reinvested in the development of the company and not elsewhere ”, Sabine Le Gonidec proudly emphasizes.

Towards the creation of a federation

Seduced by the Nantes initiative, other funeral cooperatives have since emerged in Rennes (270 members), Bordeaux (160 members), Dijon and Tulle. Projects are underway in Angers, Le Havre, Lille, La Roche-sur-Yon, Strasbourg, Orléans, Lyon …

This handful of pioneers is organizing to build the Federation of English Funeral Cooperatives (FC2F). “The objective is to facilitate communication between groups and to pool skills”, explains Thomas Allié, 21, responsible for the development of FC2F, within the Bordeaux cooperative Syprès. This work-study student, in a master's 2 ESS and Social Innovation at Sciences po Bordeaux, says “Very happy to participate in this ethical project, with actors who promote transparency, fair prices, participatory governance”.

Values ​​shared by Julien, administrative and financial manager in a medico-social establishment. This quadra, in full professional reconversion in the funeral industry, participates in the creation of a cooperative in Lyon supported by the Alter'Incub incubator: “Joining this movement also means breaking the taboo around death and enlightening the public on the economy and mores of a little or poorly known sector, for example through round tables on the role of notaries, ecology in the funeral, etc. “

Challenge the private sector

By coming together, these cooperatives hope to influence the very profitable funeral market. The sector, trusted by the giants OGF and Funecap, has a turnover of 2.5 billion Pounds (3.5% growth per year). “A dozen business networks concentrate half of the activity”, according to a study by INSEE, included in a report by the Court of Auditors in 2021. A market judged “Opaque” by the magistrates who denounce the practice of prices twice as high as inflation, while the opening to competition in 1993 was intended to reduce the cost of funerals.

Will the little Thumbs of the funeral be able to make their voice heard? “In Quebec, the movement [20 coopératives, 200.000 membres, 700 salariés NDRL] made it possible to lower prices, playing a role of market regulator ” recalls Sabine Le Gonidec. A great victory which, however, took ten years to achieve …

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