Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree… how did you get to my house?
It’s a tradition that has evolved over centuries: searching for the “perfect tree”, bringing an evergreen tree into our homes, and decorating it with lights and ornaments.
25 to 30 million Christmas trees are sold in the U.S. every year. But how do these holiday fixtures make their way into our homes? We can all learn a lot from the precarious supply chain of the Christmas tree. From demand planning the items to transporting the evergreens, the Christmas tree economy has been learning and improving for years.
Leaving the farm
A tree takes an average of 7 years to grow, causing some precarious predictions by the growers. That means 7 years ago, growers were attempting to predict how many trees would be needed that year — do you think they considered a pandemic?
Guessing incorrectly can lead to drastic shortages or surpluses. And, poor weather conditions during that 7 years can alter the fruitfulness of a planned harvest.
While Christmas trees are grown in every state, the top-producing states are Oregon, North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Washington. After harvest, trees are transported throughout the U.S. and as far as Hawaii where 96% of their trees were imported in 2012.
Headed home for the holidays
Transporting all the grown Christmas trees requires a massive number of trucks. While flatbed trucks and 40 ft. trailers can accommodate the goods, given the need for preservation, refrigerated trucks are preferred but may be more expensive. Since lack of circulation or high temps can cause the trees to dry out, experts recommend not shipping the trees over long distances or through a drastic climate change.
Once the tree leaves the farm, most trees are then transported straight to their retail locations. Deviations on the route can hurt the trees, so a direct path to their end-point is recommended. 32% are purchased in big-box stores, like Walmart or Lowes. Many consumers also purchase from their local nurseries, nonprofits, and other retailers.
While Christmas trees have not hit the e-commerce demand level of other products, a surprising number of trees are actually purchased online: 6% and growing. One of those online retailers is A Tree to Your Door .com. Owned by the tree growers at Brown’s Tree Farm, they will ship the tree of your choice straight to your door. On their website, you select the type of Evergreen tree and size. The trees are shipped via Fedex in boxes. They do note that trees over 6.5’ will incur additional shipping fees.
At the time of writing this article, A Tree to Your Door .com was sold out of almost all of their trees online, but we were able to add a 6.5’ to 7.5’ White Pine to our cart for $73. Shipping to our Georgia office, however, was $146.66.
For the 94% who are still buying in-person, most will be responsible for their own final mile delivery, taking the tree from the lot it was purchased with the tree strapped to the top of their vehicle or stowed inside.
How has COVID changed the Christmas tree industry?
In 2008, when the economy was at a low, demand for trees fell, too, with many choosing to forego trees to save money. In spite of 2020’s economic falters, the need for a feeling of normalcy trumped financial woes and consumers flocked to purchase trees earlier than ever before.
But higher demand may not mean more profit for those in the Christmas tree industry. Peak in a pandemic has driven freight prices up, cutting into growers’ margins. Many of these costs are trickling down to the consumer, in a year with job losses and tighter pocketbooks, but don’t appear to be steering them away from live tree purchases.
Happy Holidays from the eTrac team
Whether you’re a fan of real trees or artificial, celebrating in-person or on Zoom, we wish you and your family a safe and happy Holidays and a prosperous New Year.