Communion wafers are an essential part of Catholic religious ceremonies, but surprisingly the church’s leading supplier has officially won out against its religious competition.
- At one time, nuns were the primary producers of communion wafers—unleavened bread used during the Catholic and other Christian communion ceremonies in weekly mass.
- However, as demand for wafers rose, secular competition crept into the wafer market.
- While nuns were once the leading suppliers, they have been outpaced by Cavanagh, a company whose namesake invented the Cavanaugh Baker that revolutionized the wafer industry, The Hustle reports.
Why it’s news
Religious institutions once produced these little bits of unleavened bread. In 1910, the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration supplied wafers to their local area, and many convents decided to follow suit.
However, the nuns had to cut and prepare the wafers by hand, and demand was rising. In an attempt to lighten their load, a priest asked John Cavanagh to find a solution. He created the Cavanagh Baker, which helped nuns produce wafers on a larger scale.
By 1955, the nuns were providing 50 million wafers to three states, The Hustle reports. But Cavanagh’s sons saw the potential for a business opportunity. Though the Cavanaghs say they invited the Benedictine nuns to be part of their business model, the nuns did not feel comfortable turning the religious product into a business. By the 1990s, Cavanagh controlled 80% of the wafer market.
Cavanagh wafers set themselves apart from traditional wafers by adding new perks, making them less likely to crumble and producing a thicker wafer. The bread even featured a cross stamped in the middle.
As Cavanagh pressed forward in the market, other religious manufacturers declined, but the Benedictine sisters persisted. They improved their equipment and introduced a line of low-gluten wafers in the early 2000s, The Hustle reports.
At their height, the Benedictine sisters controlled 10% of the market share. However, they finally crumbled when the pandemic hit, and church attendance in the U.S. plummeted. While Cavanagh may finally have near-total control of the wafer market, the nuns certainly did not go down without a fight.