Millennials have earned a reputation for loving consumer products that are local and artisanal. So why are they are buying so many plastic Christmas trees?
That’s the question irking Tim O’Connor, the executive director of the Christmas Tree Promotion Board in Littleton, Colo. To help capture more buyers, growers are positioning themselves as analogs to the local and organic food movement. Real trees have all the things younger adults are drawn to, he said, touting authenticity, benefits to the environment and support for regional economies.
They’ve got their work cut out for them. While almost 95 million U.S. households will display a Christmas tree this season, only 19 percent of those are expected to be real, according to a survey conducted by Nielsen for the American Christmas Tree Association released Thursday. While some houses display both types of trees, most will be putting up artificial trees, usually made from plastic and coming from factories sometimes located across the globe.
The tide could already be starting to change, according to George Richardson, the co-owner of Richardson Farms in Spring Grove, Ill., who’s a fifth-generation farmer. He plants 10,000 seedlings a year on his operation, where buyers can choose and cut their own tree.
“Real Christmas trees were immensely popular in ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, and then the fake trees got in,” Richardson said. “For a while, people thought, this is so convenient, let’s do that. Now we’re finding out that maybe they’re not the healthiest, pristine thing we thought they were, and they’ll end up in a landfill.”
The best customers of real trees are families with children. Older adults from the Baby Boomer generation are becoming empty-nesters, while millennials — a cohort of young people now aged about 18 to 35 — are on the cusp of starting families. That’s left a gap for real trees, which have lost buyers as artificial trees gained.
But the real-tree industry says there’s potential to win big over the next decade as young families bloom. Only 20 percent of millennials currently have young children, O’Connor of the farmer-funded Christmas Tree Promotion Board said. That leaves the lion’s share of the biggest generation — and their future Christmas traditions — still up for grabs.
Another hurdle for real trees: rising prices.
A real Christmas tree will probably cost about 10 percent more this year compared with last, said Doug Hundley, a spokesman for the National Christmas Tree Association, which represents growers. Tree supplies are tight, and demand is expected to be robust due to the healthy economy and signs that consumers are set to splurge this holiday.