Holiday Special: Inside The Christmas Tree Supply Chain

Nov 22, 2023
The Christmas Tree Supply Chain
Millions of Christmas trees are already en route to homes, businesses, churches and public displays nationwide in the annual celebration of all things green (no, not football).

The annual Christmas tree shipping frenzy is substantial enough to impact rates and carrier capacity in certain regions of the country, and thus affect operations for any business planning on moving goods during the holidays.

At First Call Logistics, we’re celebrating the Holiday Season in true logistical fashion: breaking down the where, when and how of the Christmas tree supply chain.

Christmas tree fact sheet, First Call Logistics Holiday Special, 900x1480px

Bringing Trees Home for the Holidays

According to the American Christmas Tree Association, 94% of Americans plan to display at least one Christmas tree in 2023, and 23% of that crowd prefer live trees over artificial ones. There are three main routes a live tree takes from farm to the family room:

  1. Local Christmas tree farmers reserve large swaths of ready-to-cut trees for visiting customers to harvest themselves each year. Usually, these farms will offer services to help ready for transport.
  2. With a special permit, select trees can also be harvested outside the bounds of a tree farm. Every year, the US Forest Service issues a number of tree-cutting permits to more daring Christmas tree shoppers willing to venture onto National Forest lands to find, cut and bring home a wild tree in true Griswold Family fashion.
  3. Pre-cut trees can often be purchased at temporary lots outside popular chain stores, dedicated Christmas tree lots, garden centers and other retailers.

The first two options are by far the easiest for suppliers because consumers are doing all of the transport work themselves. Option three, however, requires a bit more logistical planning.

After years of attention and care, trees labeled as being ready to harvest are individually reviewed and assigned a price based on quality. Workers use chainsaws to cut and bundle them in groups of 12-14, which are then transported to nearby trucks via helicopter.

Trucks haul the trees to a production area, where large equipment is used to shake off dead pine needles and individually bale each tree. As many as 750 baled trees can be loaded into a full-size 53’ trailer, generally shipping out the same day they’re harvested.

Once cut, a live Christmas tree lasts about five weeks before visibly deteriorating. This short window puts carriers under immense pressure to make deliveries as efficiently as possible to maximize tree freshness.

Both live and artificial trees tend to make their last-mile journey to a consumer’s family room via personal automobiles or retail delivery services. Shippers who contract with smaller carriers for local deliveries should bear in mind the increased seasonal pressures on capacity.

Christmas Tree Shipping’s Capacity Impact

Harvest season comes around sooner than you might think; shippers often see lanes affected as early as October when the season’s first harvests begin transporting greens for wreaths to distant locales. An estimated 99% of Christmas trees ship out in November and December, with peak shipping time regularly crowding lanes the week before Thanksgiving (every retailer wants fresh trees on their lots for the day after Thanksgiving).

Short hauls can transport fresh-cut Christmas trees by van, but more distant destinations in the Midwest and East Coast typically require reefers for protection from extreme temperatures (including dangerous heat domes and potential winter freezes) while in transit.

Shippers can expect reefer and van availability to dwindle in the weeks preceding Thanksgiving, as well as higher rates for outbound freight from the Pacific Northwest and North Carolina, where more than half of the country’s 25-30 million annual Christmas tree haul originates.

Simplify your Next Shipment with First Call Logistics

Building and managing cost-efficient supply chains is a full-time job. First Call’s rare combination of in-house assets, expert problem-solving and track record of stellar customer service makes us the 3PL of choice for business partners with a wide range of shipping needs.

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