Christmas tree market 2017: what are the prospects for UK growers this season?

British growers say they are in a good place for 2017 thanks to exchange rates and prices remaining steady.

HA Trim's Hans Alexandersen  - image: HW
HA Trim's Hans Alexandersen - image: HW

Environmental benefits and a longer selling period are driving a surge in pot-grown Christmas trees for growers such as FCTP, with up to 500,000 trees now available a year.

Sarah Flamson from Cadeby Tree Trust says the weak pound will "hopefully do British trees a bit of good this year".  She was at Dobbies' event for 100 of its nursery stock suppliers at Kew in June as a supplier of pot-grown trees. "Dobbies are leading the call" for GB-grown, she adds. Drynie Mains Woodlands supplies cut trees.

Cadeby is not changing prices although some people are raising prices for trees taller than 6ft because there are never plentiful supplies, says Flamson. Retail prices are likely to remain static too, she adds.

Tree growth has been strong this year and growth regulators are being used to stop trees getting floppy. A big trend looks to be in pot-grown and Flamson says new varieties are coming in such as blue spruce, while "proper" pot-grown trees are becoming more common rather than repotted or replanted trees.

Jadecliff chief operating officer Steve Gribben says the season is looking good after investment in three new plantations totalling more than 100 acres. Pots are a growth area too, he adds. He says some markets are "quite saturated" but Jadecliff has a long-term strategy in partnership with Dutch arm Jadecliff BV.

Gribben cannot see prices changing this year, particularly because of the Brexit effect and transport costs for Danish and Polish trees, where there is increased production. 

Jadecliff managing director Sadie Lynes does not see overproduction on the premium side but points out that the "£19.99 tree" brings down the standard. The danger to the overall market is the supermarket or DIY loss leader cheap tree, which is an impulse buy.

Pot-grown is a growing market for Jadecliff too, but grower says the idea that the tree will do well outside in the January frosts post-Christmas is suspect.

HA Trim's Hans Alexandersen was sporting a British-themed outfit and a stand full of Union Jacks, pushing the environmental benefits of not importing. He says trees will be "possibly cheaper", although demand and supply are "pretty stable".

Green Team's Martin Coward says 2017 is business as usual after 2016's Brexit changes, which is "good news for British growers". Prices are stable although there are a lot of small sizes around and production is increasing, particularly in Poland. Green Team is part of a Danish group and has big plantations in Poland but its trees are aimed mostly at local and German markets.

Green Team supplies B&Q/Kingfisher, which means supplying the whole of Europe, so it is well placed to cover all the retailer's markets. Needlefresh has supplied Homebase/Bunnings, which has an "everyday low prices" pledge, and Coward says B&Q will have to "aggressively" match that. He adds that pot-grown is very much on the increase as an extra tree for the bedroom or porch.

Needlfresh's George Hood says there are a few more small Nordmann firs coming onto the market but there is likely to be little difference in price. He says it has been a good growing year and retailers will try and stick with UK-grown if they can.

FCTP's Soren Petersen says there are "too many" cut trees on the market so he concentrates 100 per cent on pot-grown, from east Scotland. He says sales of pot-grown have become 10 per cent or even 20 per cent of the market, which could be 500,000 trees and could grow to 1m.

The 80-100cm range is most popular and, because of early delivery in October, trees are available to customers for around six weeks longer and they tend to want to start decorating earlier and earlier. He says cut-tree prices could fall by 30 per cent this year, which is not in accordance with other growers.

Fillingham Christmas Trees' William Rose insists that for the majority of his customers "quality rather than price remains the key prerequisite". He adds that because people are putting up their Christmas trees earlier every year, they will happily pay a bit more for a tree if they know it will last, while retailers are seeking out UK growers for fresher trees.
"The falling pound has tightened margins of wholesalers importing trees," says Rose. "They face the dilemma of swallowing these fluctuations or increasing prices. Growing conditions in the UK have been excellent for tree growth — the hot weather tempered with recent rain has created near-perfect conditions."

The natural tree message is coming from the British Christmas Tree Growers Association in the face of better and cheaper plastic trees. The UK market is anywhere between four million and eight million trees, depending on which grower you talk to.

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