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Chinese Altar Breads Flooding American Market
Oct 8, 2013 - 12:13
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"Jesus Christ! Does that say 'Made in China.'"
WEST CHESTER, Pa.–The ultra-competitive altar bread market has been thrown into a cocked miter by the emergence of Chinese players in this sacramental arena, but at least one of their American counterparts does not seem inclined to turn the other cheek.

"We are a Christian nation, and they have the audacity to sell sweatshop altar breads over here," said Sister Josephus, mother superior of the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Affliction in Clyde, Missouri, a major player in the altar-bread stakes. "Why don't those [Chinese] stick to making fortune cookies?"

Altar breads, for the religiously impaired, are thin, round wafers about the size of a decent nipple on a mature woman. They are made of flour and water for Catholic consumption, but some religions add rosemary, honey, or other mild flavoring agents. According to legend, when altar breads are blessed by a priest, they turn into the body of Jesus. They are then distributed during communion rituals.

Until recent Chinese incursions, various religious orders and a few secular manufacturers waged a dogma-eat-dogma competition for a slice of the annual multi-million-dollar altar bread pie. Now a host of Chinese bakeries are marketing altar breads priced from 45 to 70 percent below American manufacturers' products.

Companies like Ganso or the aptly named Holiland, not content to surf the rising demand for pastry in China, are looking to foreign lands and niche products to boost profits, and their business model appears to be take no prisoners. Chinese altar breads are even turning up in supermarkets, an outlet as yet untapped by American competitors.

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"Of course we are not a Christian nation," said Winston Cheng, director of international sales for Holiland. "So how are we going to make any money selling altar bread in China? Stick an image of the Buddha on it? Besides, somebody ought to tell that lady that fortune cookies are an American invention. Turn around is fair play."

The good nuns are not about to see their convent industry crumble without putting up a fight. In a recent letter to the Sisters of Perpetual Affliction customer base, Mother Josephus alluded none to subtly to the 2007 recall of contaminated Chinese tooth paste, rice powder, and children's toys.

"Our altar breads contain nothing but flour, water, and a prayer. They are entirely safe for children. We have never and would never add things like melamine or cyanuric acid to our product, as some countries have added to their exports in the past. May the blessings of Jesus be with you."

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