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The Great Christmas Tree Shortage

The 2017 short supply is linked to fewer tree farms and a love of Nutella—in China

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If you end up in a frantic scramble to find a Christmas tree in the coming weeks, or you suffer sticker shock at tree prices this year, you can probably blame China—or more specifically, the popularity of Nutella in China.

"Some of our legacy Christmas tree farms in the Pacific Northwest stopped growing trees several years ago," said Lindsay Schramm, co-owner of North End Organic Nursery, a Treasure Valley go-to destination for holiday greenery located at 3777 W. Chinden Blvd in Garden City. "Many of those growers shifted away from Christmas trees and have replaced them with hazelnut trees—you know, the nuts they use to make Nutella. A lot of that demand has been driven by China. Apparently Chinese people really love Nutella."

Nutella, the incredibly popular hazelnut/cocoa spread, was first introduced by Italy-based Ferrero in the 1960s. China Daily reported in 2015 Ferrero was investing $300 million to build a manufacturing facility in Hangzhou, China, and the confectionery company claimed "a commanding 24 percent of the Chinese chocolate confectionery market," according to China Daily.

The Chinese/Nutella holiday disruptor may be at the core of one of the most surprising examples of supply and demand in recent memory, but it does little to help Christmas shoppers in a quest to find the perfect tree. During the week before Thanksgiving, the phone at NEON seemed to ring off the hook as employees fielded a nearly endless stream of requests about tree availability.

"They want to know if we're still taking pre-orders," said a NEON employee.

Schramm did some quick math in her head.

"Well, if they want a really big one, a 12- to 15-foot tree, we'll have to double-check our availability," she answered, then took a deep breath and smiled.

"The word is getting out on the limited supply," Schramm said. "This year is going to be very interesting."

NEON does have Christmas trees available. Schramm found 700 beauties (many have been spoken for), and her somewhat melodramatic journey in search of those trees could serve as a plot for a Hallmark Channel television holiday movie.

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