DALLAS – The smell of fresh-cut evergreens of different shapes and sizes permeated the air at Patton Christmas Trees in Dallas, where shoppers are expected to take home about a thousand trees in the coming weeks.
To find a noble fir with a “Christmassy” smell that fits just right in their home, Candace Cain said she and her husband, Brian, drove from 40 miles away.
The owner, John Patton, unwrapped a tree. When the couple wasn’t sure it would fit in its designated spot, Patton unwrapped another and another until the couple found one to tie down into the back of their pickup.
Cain said shopping for a live tree is “part of the Christmas experience,” and after seeing the selection, she was already planning to return next year.
Experts say that like most years, shoppers should look early to have the best selection of trees – live or artificial – which are expected to be in high demand this year. They also predict there should be enough trees for everyone who wants one, despite retailers and growers having faced disruptions brought on by weather, inflation, the supply chain and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Patton said there is nostalgia that comes with buying a tree that “just kind of brings Christmas into the home.” Last year, U.S. consumers purchased more than 20 million live trees at a median price of $69.50, according to a January survey by the National Christmas Tree Association.
Trees take between five and 15 years to grow – meaning weather, supply-chain issues and other factors can affect the supply years down the line, said Jill Sidebottom, spokeswoman for the association. She said the economic downturn in 2008 is still having effects on the number of trees available, which has been tight since 2016.
Some locations could sell out of farm-grown trees early, but while supply is expected to be tight, there will be enough trees to go around, according to the association, which advocates for the live Christmas tree industry.
“It’s not like with COVID, that you go to Walmart and there would be no paper towels for sale, just bare shelves,” Sidebottom said. “There are still plenty of trees out there.”
Growers also are dealing with the rising costs of labor and supplies, Sidebottom said, which will affect the price for consumers.
Patton said his supplier is in Oregon, where crops were damaged from a heat wave last year. But while there has been a shortage, he said the trees he’s receiving look better than last year’s.
“This year in Oregon, they’ve had really good weather and so the trees are very healthy,” Patton said.
Whether trees are live or artificial, “robust consumer demand” is expected this season and “options may be more limited,” according to a September statement by Jami Warner, executive director of the American Christmas Tree Association, another industry group.
The ACTA found that despite challenges in the pandemic, the purchasing of Christmas trees between 2019 and 2021 decreased by just 2%.
About 94 million homes – or 75% of U.S. households – displayed a Christmas tree in 2021; of those, 84% were artificial and 16% were live, according to a survey by the ACTA. About 6.5 million displayed both live and artificial trees, according to the survey.
Last year, supply-chain disruptions made it harder to find trees, and small retailers may have cut back orders for this year citing inflation, further supply-chain issues, fear of recession and losses from pandemic years, according to the ACTA.
In 2020, retailers faced delays and cut their orders back because of the pandemic, but then realized those stuck at home would want Christmas decor and demand started earlier, said Mac Harman, founder of Balsam Hill, a retailer known for its artificial trees.
“What we’re seeing is, this is the first normal year we’ve had as retailers since 2019,” Harman said.
He said he believes there will be a “huge surge” in demand beginning Thanksgiving weekend.
Harman said retailers order the trees nearly a year before they are sold, and because last year’s costs were up, some stores may have raise prices or reduced quality to compensate.
Harman said while he expects fewer trees to be available overall, how long stores remain well-stocked will depend on how high demand goes.
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