A shortage of Christmas trees and the recent mild weather are conspiring to cause problems this festive season.
As sellers of both artificial and real Christmas trees gear up for the four-week sales period, they have been battling behind the scenes to ensure sales can be saved.
A shortage of artificial trees from Asia, along with the warm autumn weather causing real trees to shed their needles too soon, has created real headaches.
John Brennan, owner of IrishChristmasTrees.com from Milltown and Dundrum in Dublin, said a perfect winter storm has been brewing, with the cost of shipments from China and Thailand of artificial trees increasing due to congestion at ports worldwide.
Mr Brennan explained: “The usual cost of a container of artificial trees is around €3,000 which contains between 200 and 500 dependent on their size. The cost has now soared to €18,000 per container.
“The reason the prices have soared is due to a number of factors: congestion in the ports worldwide resulting in missed loading and unloading spots; the aftermath of the 400-metre-long ship, the Evergiven, getting stuck in the Suez Canal last March for several days; and greed. By this I mean countries wanting shipments before others as a result of delays due to the pandemic.”
The father-of-two and grandfather who has been in business for more than 40 years pointed out that “no business could sustain this enormous surge in prices.”
The first cousin of the famous hospitality brothers John and Francis Brennan said: “An artificial tree which cost €103 last Christmas is costing €150 now due to the shortage, but I couldn’t in all conscience pass on all of that increase on to my customers.
“I know that a lot of the major retailers, such as Woodies, Homebase and Homestore, are waiting for a big shipment on December 1st to come in, but it’s looking like there may be delays due to port congestion and that could slow their arrival.
“The big retailers and garden centres are already dealing with having limited stock levels. It would normally take around the four-week mark for a shipment to arrive and now it’s taking seven weeks.
“Companies are now leaving full containers with the manufacturers as they know they won’t be able to deliver to countries on time due to the level of port congestion.”
Mr Brennan pointed out that he is in the lucky position of having a good supply due to two early shipments.
“I’m lucky enough to have a supply of the trees. I deal with the same manufacturing family in Asia for years and I deal with the freight company CH Robinson who managed to deliver my supplies in September and at the start of this month.”
Speaking from his shop in Dundrum, Mr Brennan, who began selling his real Christmas Trees at his base in Milltown on Saturday also pointed out that the recent mild weather is causing problems with the condition of the trees.
“There hasn’t been much cold weather over the past few weeks which is causing a problem. The trees are not going to hold on to their needles very long, and they will start shedding after the 10-day mark as they don’t like the heat.”
Mr Brennan, who supplies trees and decorations to many of the major hotel chains, also revealed that he has supplied trees to well-known names such as President Michael D Higgins, actor Colin Farrell and the late comedian Dermot Morgan.
“Businesses buying real trees for public places could face problems with the trees shedding too quickly and perhaps the headache of having to replace them.
“The later the real trees are put up in homes and businesses around the country the better. The majority of the trees sold in the domestic market are Nordmann Fir followed by the Noble Fir.”
Last Christmas growers had a bumper year thanks to households buying more than one tree and wanting to spread the festive cheer more than ever due to Covid-19.
Sales exceeded €22 million last year, according to the Christmas Trees Growers Association.
Online sales soared and at least 500,000 trees were sold on the Irish market, conservatively up 50,000 on 2019 figures.
More than 200,000 trees were exported to European markets, such as Germany and France and in the UK, which is a continued yearly increase.