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Billion-dollar U.S. Christmas tree industry expected to see sales rise

The farm-grown Christmas tree industry in this country is a billion-dollar industry that sold 24.5 million trees last year, and 2013 should see an increase, according to Rick Dungey, public relations director of the National Christmas Tree Association in Chesterfield, MO.

“While there has been some consolidation and reduction of farms growing trees, consumer demand is still strong and predicted to get stronger,” Dungey told The Produce News. He noted that last year was the first year in a long time that Christmas tree farms were not the dominant point-of-purchase location. “From the data and from talking to various retailers, pre-cut tree retailers are getting more of the market share.”

A consumer survey Dungey cited showed that chainstores and Christmas tree farms each had 24 percent of sales, while temporary tree lots and nonprofit groups each had 15 percent. Retail garden centers trailed with 11 percent. “One way for retailers to increase sales is to offer a unique product and buying experience,” he said.

Dungey added that pre-cut tree lots and stores can also draw customers by focusing on niche products. “For example,” he said, “one independent retailer on the East Coast set up a tree lot last year near a suburban area with apartment buildings and supplied it with only ‘Apartment Christmas Trees,’ all four to five feet tall, steep-taper trees. That lot sold out very quickly.”

One trend Dungey is noticing at the retail level is consumers looking more actively for variety in trees they can buy. “Species, shape, size, color, shearing pattern — growers have been working to bring these variations to market,” he noted. “That requires the grower, wholesaler and retailer to work together to determine what the specific retailer’s market potential is and to help the grower make on-farm decisions with trees.”

“It’s important for retailers to know how they should take care of trees before they sell them to the end-buyer” Dungey pointed out. “Proper storage and display of tree inventory at a store varies greatly depending on location. Tips for storing and displaying pre-cut trees would be different in Miami from what they are in Minneapolis.” NCTA offers a free guide to retailers on storage and display of pre-cut trees by U.S. climate zones.

Retailers should discuss tree storage with their tree suppliers as well, before buying trees. “Most suppliers are willing to help retailers set up a tree storage area and display area and offer tips on maintaining plant freshness throughout the three- to four-week sales period,” Dungey said.

“There will always be strong demand for the cut your own tree experience,” Dungey said. “But there are also many consumers who would buy a farm-grown, real tree each year if offered more choices in trees and ways to buy one, get it home, and get it recycled after Christmas.”