Despite the increasing popularity of artificial trees, for millions of people across the globe, there’s nothing quite like the smell and look of the real thing.
That’s good news for Canadian Christmas tree growers, as the country remains the world’s largest exporter of Christmas trees. Despite a decrease in demand for Christmas trees in 2008 and 2009 due to the recession, things are looking up for the Canadian Christmas tree industry.
“In 2014 alone, Canada exported over 1.5 million trees to foreign markets, with a value of over $32 million,” says Ross Prusakowski, EDC economist. “And while the United States buys the vast majority of these trees (approximately 92%) due to its population and proximity, Canada exported to eighteen markets last year.”
Whether it’s the Bahamas, Jamaica, Thailand or Aruba, you’ll find Canadian Christmas trees there this holiday season.
Quebec is, by a large margin, the province benefitting the most from the Christmas tree industry, with over 50% of Canadian exports stemming from the province. Its climate and hilly terrain makes it an ideal location for fir tree growth. This, combined with its proximity to large US populations, make it an attractive choice for exporters.
Plantations Nicholas is a plantation located in the Beauce Region of Quebec, specializing in Christmas trees and related products such as wreaths and brush.
The business was acquired by Francis Gilbert in 2013, building on his decades of personal experience in the industry. “I’ve grown up selling Christmas trees – my family has been doing it since I was a child,” says Francis. “Most Christmas tree plantations are very well established in the region, and we think a newer and more dynamic company like ours will make an impact in the industry.”
As a young company with a lot to prove, and a workforce of only 50 seasonal employees, every sale is important to their success. Exports to the United States make up a significant percentage of those sales. “The American market makes up about 80 percent of our profits, especially in New York state,” says Francis.
Acquiring the necessary resources and equipment to increase production can be challenge for any small company. To ensure they have the capital needed to prepare for the holiday season, Plantations Nicholas recently signed an Export Guarantee Program with EDC.
“Working with EDC opens up possibilities that we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to secure,” says Francis. “With EDC’s guarantee to our bank, we were able to secure the financing we needed to prepare for the holiday season and continue to expand our business.”
So what makes American buyers so interested in Canadian Trees? Their quality, says Francis.
“We really challenge ourselves to deliver quality Christmas trees and wreaths with great service – that’s key to our success. Our balsam firs are a particular hit. Its dark green colour and the softness of its branches give it a reputation as the ideal Christmas tree.”
This insistence on quality has been a successful model for Plantations Nicholas, with the company showing significant year over year growth since its inaugural year in 2013. “In the three seasons we’ve been in operation, we’ve been able to grow our business tremendously,” says Francis. “In 2014 alone, we tripled our earnings from the year before.”
“This year, we’ve already doubled last year’s earnings,” says Francis, adding that he expects to increase his sales by another forty percent next year.
A changing landscape
As with any agricultural product, changes in climate can create fluctuations in the supply of trees.
“Christmas trees are like any crop, there are variations in the size of the supply available. This is very evident in the changes between 2013 and 2014 for exports for Christmas Trees,” says Ross Prusakowski.
Approximately 46 000 fewer trees were exported in Canada last year in comparison with 2013 – a reduction of 3%. But despite the reduced exports, the value of Christmas tree exports are increasing.
“Despite the decline, the value of Christmas trees increased by almost 20% last year,” explains Ross. “Our cheaper Canadian dollar, combined with an improving US economy, makes Canadian Christmas trees an attractive and cost-effective proposition for American households.”
And with market conditions set to continue into next year, Christmas tree growers are likely to have a very merry Christmas in 2015 and beyond.