Canada: And a Profit In A Polyvinyl Tree

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Power saws ripped through the evergreen stands last week in seven of Canada's ten provinces, and trucks and horse-drawn sleighs hauled the bales of trees off to shipping points. It was that time of year again for Canada's best-known industry, and growers were busy cutting the 15 million Christmas trees that they will sell this year. However, there is a bit of strain in the merriment this year for Canada's exporters of pine, spruce, Douglas and balsam firs. Reason: artificial trees are making steady inroads into the lucrative Christmas tree market.

Canada sells 65% of her trees to the U.S., where Christmas tree sales have soared into a $155 million annual business. Now, a Chase Manhattan Bank survey points out, artificial trees have taken over 35% of that total and are raising their share of it rapidly. Unlike the cheap and flimsy creations of old, most of the artificial trees are apt to be polyvinyl wonders that resemble the real thing in all but falling needles and forest smell. They are not only flameproof—one big selling point—crush-proof and fadeproof, but can be stored away in a box. And though some sell for as much as $130, most sell for well under $25. Fifty thriving artificial-tree companies have grown up in the U.S. to supply the market (v. only seven a few years ago), and imports are arriving from Britain, Germany and Japan.

Alarmed by these inroads—even in Canada, artificial-tree sales will surpass $1,000,000 this year—Canadian tree growers are trying to retaliate with better, less expensive trees. Farmers who cut and sell wild trees for extra income are being edged out by large tree plantations, where as many as a million evergreens are mechanically planted, protected and harvested, then carefully graded by size and shape. To protect their trees, shippers have begun to wrap them in a new plastic mesh that costs about 25¢ a tree but ensures arrival in good condition. At Montreal's MacDonald College, Dr. A.R.C. Jones is grafting European pines onto Canadian trees to produce a greener, fuller tree that will retain its needles longer.

Canadians also are relying on tradition to help retain their market. "We live in an artificial environment," says Dr. Jones. "The Christmas tree is one of the few things left that is natural."