2020 Season Overview: The impact of COVID-19 on real tree sales

As we all know, 2020 was a unique year due to coronavirus; it impacted everything. Many people lost their jobs or saw their income decline significantly, particularly among those working in the travel, recreation and hospitality sectors. Businesses were disrupted by shutdowns or significantly reduced sales. The resulting K-shaped recovery bears witness to the income loss of those whose jobs were at-risk. In addition, family Christmas gatherings were altered by sickness, death, restrictions on cohort mixing, large gatherings and travel.

So, it should not come as a surprise that COVID-19 also affected the 2020 Christmas tree sales season. A lot of consumers wanted to get a real tree for their Christmas celebration and they
wanted to shop early, resulting in many tree farms and seasonal lots opening the weekend before Thanksgiving. This combination gave the impression that a surge in demand for real Christmas trees was occurring. However, the reality was, the tight supply of trees that were mature enough to be sold in 2020 was a real constraint. That tight supply capped the notion of a big leap in sales numbers.

After taking the pulse of what growers experienced, which had been gathered by the National Christmas Tree Association board of directors representing state and regional grower associations across the country, we found that Christmas tree sales in 2020 occurred earlier. Sales grew at a more rapid pace and available inventories sold out in many cases. Since a large number of additional trees to sell in 2020 were simply not available, the number of trees sold during the season did not increase. In fact, fewer trees may have been available in 2020 than previous years, while the sell-through of existing inventory was extremely high. Ultimately, it was a very strong year for farm-grown tree sales.

We also learned from the NCTA’s annual consumer survey that real Christmas tree buyers in 2020 were younger, more urban and purchased more trees online than previous years. These are important trends for the industry to connect with and adapt to. The average age of real tree customers in 2020 was 38; 4 years younger than the average age of real tree buyers in 2019.

Perhaps this age shift was due to stay-at-home mandates from COVID-19, but it could be a significant opportunity for the industry, if these younger buyers can be retained as real tree customers for the future. Nearly 40 percent of all real Christmas trees were purchased by urban dwellers in 2020 – an 8 percent increase over 2019. Staying connected with these customers and ensuring they can purchase a real tree conveniently are important steps in the evolution of real tree sales. Growers may need to do things to enhance online purchase options to keep these urban buyers viable in 2021.

NCTA traditionally publishes other data projected from its consumer survey. Unfortunately, due to the uniqueness of 2020, no additional useful data is available; 2020 was incomparable with any previous year.