Christmas Trees in ‘tight Supply,’ but No Boulder County Shortage
While many news headlines are highlighting a reported Christmas tree shortage, the executive director of the National Christmas Tree Association said that isn’t really accurate.
“It’s a tight supply,” said Tim O’Connor, who is based in Denver. “But it’s not a shortage.”
For the past few years, O’Connor has seen many stories about a tree deficit, even though the industry didn’t run out of trees in 2016 or 2017. It actually sold 27.4 million trees each year.
O’Connor worries the inaccurate stories will make consumers give up on finding a Christmas tree without even trying. Then, if a customer buys an artificial tree, “you’ve probably lost the customer for quite a while.”
The “tight supply” tree farms and sellers now face goes back a decade to the recession, according to O’Connor.
There was an oversupply at that time for a few reasons, he said. Many in the baby boomer generation, after sending kids off on their own, switched to artificial trees for convenience.
Then, the recession hit in 2008. People cut back discretionary spending, O’Connor said, and Christmas tree farms were one of the industries that took a hit.
Trees, especially larger ones, take a while to grow. Farmers plant a tree one year, then take care of it for many more years, and don’t get a return on it for about a decade.
In 2008, farmers had to weigh the costs of planting and maintaining against the distant idea of getting a profit, O’Connor said, “so it was a challenging time.”
Some farms closed down, and others chose not to plant as many trees.
Still, O’Connor said that last year, “there wasn’t a single community that we know of in the country that ran out of trees.
“There are certain locations where they might go to buy a tree where they might not have as many options,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place down the road.”
Bob and Amy Condon have been selling pre-cut Christmas trees for 16 years (and pumpkins for 22) at their business, Cottonwood Farm, which is now in Lafayette.
Bob Condon has seen a change in supply since 2008.
“It’s harder to get exactly the trees you want when you want them,” he said. “It is very tight.”
Condon said they still get a “pretty good supply of trees.” What has changed in recent years are costs.
The more popular wholesalers have increased their prices, which in turn has increased Condon’s costs by 50 to 60 percent since 2016, Condon said. In response, he’s let profit margins get thinner so the consumer doesn’t see a 60 percent price increase as well.
“But it makes it tight all around because it’s a very short and tricky season,” he said. “You’ve only got a few weeks of really serious selling, so you don’t want to over-buy or under-buy.”
Condon thinks prices are going up because supplies are shrinking 10 years out from the recessions — but the demand for nice trees has stayed the same.
The new buyer
Demand is now starting to grow again, according to O’Connor. It’s coming from the same consumers “who are driving the growth in organic foods” — young people.
Such customers want to know the story behind the products they buy, and they want a connection to it, O’Connor said.
“There’s nothing about a plastic tree made in China and shipped over on a boat that” connects with a young person’s life, he said.
But, he said that ethos “matches up perfectly with Christmas trees,” which are grown on local farms in the United States and Canada and sold at many family-owned businesses.
“It’s a logical thing that we’re seeing,” O’Connor said. “They’re going to farms, they’re posting themselves on social media with their families having this experience of getting this tree.”
Farmers are responding to the trend, he said, by providing opportunities for photos or ways for people to connect with the business on social media.
Real trees can also be mulched at the end of the season, making them a more environmentally-friendly option than an artificial tree.
Madeline St. Amour: 303-684-5212, firstname.lastname@example.org