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The Supply Chain of the Christmas Tree

The Christmas tree has become one of the most iconic staples of the holiday season. While the origins of the evergreen tree stems back much further, Christmas tree sales in the United States began in 1850. Now, every year 25 to 30 million Christmas trees are sold in the United States. This is perhaps one of the most unique even as far as seasonal logistics are concerned and it’s not without its own set of challenges.

Every year 25 to 30 million Christmas trees are sold in the United States.

Before we get into the logistical challenges however, here are some interesting facts about the Christmas tree that you might not have known:

  • There are 15,000 specialized farms for growing Christmas trees based in every state, and most are located in the Northern States, such as Oregon, North Carolina, Michigan, Wisconsin, Washington, New York and Virginia.
  • There are many different species of trees used for Christmas trees, including fir, pine, spruce, cypress, and cedar.
  • Americans purchase more live Christmas trees annually than artificial ones, according to statista.com’s early November report that tracked sales of both from 2004 through 2019. Yet, the gulf between the two camps has narrowed since 2004, when 27.1 million real trees were sold versus 9 million fake trees. In 2018, the numbers were 32.8 million real to 23.6 million fake.
  • Approximately $2 to $3 billion in revenue is generated annually from the sale of Christmas trees.
  • Faux, Fake, or Artificial Christmas Trees were first produced in 1930 by the Addis Brush Company and used the same kind of bristles used for manufacturing toilet bowl brushes.

How are Christmas Trees Shipped?

Despite the fact that more Americans are buying artificial trees these days, that doesn’t stop the massive sales of real trees. Because they are a living plant, they require special shipping conditions which can make transportation more complicated. Christmas trees are moved in either dry vans or refrigerated trucks with temperature control. Due to the need for moisture, the longer the distance a tree has to travel the less likely it is to survive the trip in saleable condition, which applies to both replantable whole trees, as well as cut trees. Additionally, because plants are sensitive to wind and weather conditions, flatbed trucks aren’t an option for long-distance hauls.

Christmas trees are moved in either dry vans or refrigerated trucks with temperature control.

Due to the difficulties and the high likelihood of damage to the product, many carriers refuse to take on the challenge of shipping live trees. Other carriers are out simply due to the lack of required equipment to keep the trees alive and healthy during their travel.

Supply Chain Challenges for Christmas Trees

In addition to the necessary equipment needed to transport Christmas trees, there are several other obstacles and challenges that come with the tree’s supply chain. A perishable product with a 60 to 90-day lifecycle is one thing, but demand really only lasts for a month. Additionally, Christmas trees involve a lot of one-way logistics with remote pick-up locations. Because the locations are remote and export only there are no back-hauls, so there is a considerable amount of deadheaded miles involved during the trip, something most carriers want to avoid. Christmas trees also involve a lot of difficult urban deliveries which can complicate the route and add even more time to the delivery route.

And all of this is happening during the holiday season, while there is a driver shortage issue in the United States.

The Supply Chain Disruption

For tree farms, Christmas tree logistics can be a nightmare. However, the issues with Christmas tree logistics create issues for other industries as well during this time of the year. Because of such a narrow window of demand, tree farms book their capacity well in advance out of necessity due to a smaller supply of the necessary equipment to haul the trees. However, as this is going on, retailers across the country are gearing up for one of the busiest times of the year as the Holiday sales begin to ramp up. As a result, capacity gets scarce and rates begin to skyrocket as every company labors to get their deliveries made on time.

For shippers, the high demand caused by tree sales could end up affecting their own freight forecasting and budgeting.

So what can shippers do to prevent having their supply chain be disrupted during the holiday season?

Carrier contracts are also a good bet as a contracted rate can protect your budget during peak seasons of demand. Additionally, shippers should consider working with a 3PL that can help to connect them with available capacity, especially during a time when freight space is going for a premium. Lastly, if you haven’t before, consider implementing a transportation management system (TMS) into your ERP or existing legacy systems. This allows shippers to readily see what carriers are available and see what the current rates are instantly, which removes the time consuming process of endless calls, emails, and other inquiries.