Hawai'i's Christmas Tree Market: Challenges and Opportunities for Local Farmers

Exploring the Challenges and Opportunities Facing Hawaii's Local Christmas Tree Farmers

SMS Research Study was conducted in 2013

Christmas trees are a popular holiday tradition in Hawai'i, with over 190,000 trees sold in the state in 2012. According to the Hawai'i Department of Agriculture, 96% of these trees were imported, with only 4% being grown and sold locally. The majority of imported trees are Douglas Firs and Noble Firs, which are favored by Hawai'i residents for their fragrance, color, and low price. The predominant locally grown Christmas tree is the Norfolk Pine, which is known as the "Hawai'i Christmas Tree," but has a limited market due to its lack of scent, limited foliage, and higher cost. It may also be due to its limited retail distribution, as these trees are only available through a small number of farms that grow them.

There are several obstacles and opportunities that can affect the expansion of the local Christmas tree market. Major obstacles include the high production costs of farming in Hawaii and the limited number of tree species that can be grown in the tropical climate. Market opportunities include the strong concern of Hawai'i residents about the importation of invasive species, the desire of local farmers to try new varieties of trees, and the availability of research and marketing grants to revitalize the local market. Local retailers such as Whole Foods and KTA have already committed to locally grown Christmas trees, and this support is likely to increase with higher sales of local trees.

To increase the growth of the local Christmas tree market and reduce imports, it is suggested that the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) provide research and development grants to local farmers and entrepreneurs to pilot the growth of different tree varieties at multiple locations and elevations for a five-year period. This time frame will allow growers to test the viability of the trees and determine which ones are most appealing to Hawaii residents based on factors such as scent, foliage, and color. Since locally grown Christmas trees will be more expensive than imported ones, the new trees must appeal to a segment of residents who are willing to pay the higher price in order to support local farmers and avoid the risk of importing invasive species.

While it will take at least five years for the new varieties of locally grown Christmas trees to be fully piloted, it is proposed that the DLNR provide marketing and promotional support to local farmers who are currently growing Norfolk or Cypress pines to increase demand and distribution of these varieties. By supporting the farmers and retailers who are already selling these trees, the market will be more receptive to locally grown trees that offer additional consumer benefits in the future.

Read the full study "Hawai'i-Grown Christmas Tree Market Potential"

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