Christmas tree wars Making fir fly – The Economist (blog)
AS IT is the holiday season, Schumpeter wishes to spread some festive joy by highlighting the work of a little known, and under-appreciated, trade association. At this time of year there can be no better recipient of such largesse than America’s National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA). It was founded in 1955 to help farmers grow Christmas trees as an agricultural crop. (Prior to that most trees were taken from forests.) Today, state associations do much of this and the NCTA has different things on its mind, such as battling fake trees for market share in this $1 billion industry. Or, as Rick Dungey, NCTA’s spokesperson, calls artificial trees: “plastic tree-shaped decorations”. Happily for Mr Dungey, real Christmas trees are doing reasonably well. Despite a rise in sales of fake trees a decade ago, fake trees have lost their sparkle a bit since the financial crisis (see chart).
NCTA is not alone in its quest to represent Christmas trees. A more mysterious trade association called the American Christmas Tree Association (ACTA) sprouted up in 2008. ACTA says it represents the whole industry. “We believe that both kinds of trees are good trees and it’s up to the consumer to decide what is right for themselves,” says spokesperson Jami Warner. Mr Dungey is not buying it. He says ACTA will not reveal who its members are, does not represent anyone in the real tree industry and is a front for a company that imports fake trees. Not so much astroturf, then, but astropine?
Ms Warner replies, “despite the efforts of the NCTA to pick a fight, something we have not and will not engage in, we have continued our efforts to provide factual information about Christmas trees and the Christmas tree industry, and, furthermore, to advocate for the Christmas tree industry as a whole.” Ms Warner confirms that ACTA does not reveal who its members are. Schumpeter pointed out that it was difficult for ACTA to represent an industry with no evidence of any actual members. Ms Warner did not reply. But, as she pointed out previously, it is ACTA’s busiest time of year.
For an association trying to represent real and fake trees, ACTA’s website does paint rather a sad portrait of the traditional sort. One story urges consumers looking to save money to consider buying a reusable artificial Christmas tree. Another speaks of how a live tree can cause “seasonal allergies”. Tips for buying Christmas trees seem somewhat lop-sided too. If you are buying a live tree, ACTA suggests you ask yourself whether it is free of insects, dirty and consider whether you can place it away from a fire hazard. When choosing an artificial tree, however, ACTA suggests you consider it “an investment” and whether to purchase something of high quality.
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Money talks: December 16th 2013: Off life support