Family Christmas Tree Farm is one of four cut-your-own tree farms in San Diego County.
Sales of real Christmas trees got off to a brisk start this holiday season and continued at a healthy pace, increasing by the highest level since 2008.
Purchases made in the first week following Thanksgiving rose by 16 percent compared with the same week in 2012, then tapered off for an 8 percent increase overall during the 26-day stretch between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Experts said the early rush was thanks to a shorter holiday season, which likely prompted consumers to buy their trees more quickly.
The newly released figures came from the ISI Group, an international market research firm that tracks Christmas tree sales through weekly surveys of regional tree associations, farmers and retailers. The company had reported a 5 percent increase in sales for 2012.
The average amount that people spent on a real Christmas tree in 2012 rose to $40.30, with total sales of $1.01 billion, according to the National Christmas Tree Association. The group has not released its statistics for this holiday season.
“We found it was a pretty good season for a lot of the tree sellers,” said Oscar Sloterbeck, head of surveys for the ISI Group. “It was better than it’s been in the last several years. A number of the people we spoke with said things were particularly strong right after Thanksgiving because the weather was conducive.”
He said bad weather in later weeks across parts of the Midwest and Northeast slowed things down, but that many sellers still ran out of inventory by the end of the season.
2012 holiday tree sales
- $1.01 billion — total sales of real Christmas trees
- $790 million — total sales or artificial Christmas trees
- $40.30 — average amount paid for a real Christmas tree
Source: National Christmas Tree Association
For example, while Home Depot has not finalized its sales figures for real Christmas trees this holiday period, it anticipated selling 2.8 million of them — up from 2.5 million the previous year.
In general, Christmas tree farmers and sellers in San Diego County said it was a great stretch of business.
“Oh my goodness, it was a fantastic year,” said Vickie Christian, owner of Pine Tree Acres in Ramona, one of four cut-your-own tree farms in San Diego County. “With the short season, because of Thanksgiving coming a week later than usual, that made us extra busy.”
Christian has not calculated her total sales for this year, but estimates that they grew about 25 percent from 2012. Many of her customers were first-timers, she said.
The season went exactly as planned for Richard Gass, owner of Family Christmas Tree Farm in El Cajon, which has been around since 1972.
“We sold all the trees we had for sale,” which was in the thousands, he said.
Operators of The Pinery in Escondido, which sells living, potted Christmas trees to big-box stores and other retailers across the United States, Canada and Mexico, said they also sold out of their inventory this year.
Only Pinery Christmas Trees in Escondido, which imports its trees from the Pacific Northwest, reported a dip in sales this holiday season. Owner Norm Osborne estimated that his business had a 2 percent drop-off from the 2012 level. His goal was to have about 150 trees left at each of his five locations, but he had a couple hundred left at each site on Dec. 24.
Among people who buy real Christmas trees, about one-quarter get them from chain stores and roughly one-quarter go to farms where they can choose and “harvest” the trees themselves, according to the National Christmas Tree Association. Others purchase their trees from garden centers or through churches and community groups selling them for fundraising.
Most sellers chip their unsold Christmas trees into mulch, either on their own, through recycling centers or via community recycling programs like the one hosted by the San Diego Environmental Services Department.