'Horror' at tree prices in garden centres: Christmas tree growers upset at mark-ups of 400%, writes David Nicholson-Lord

CHRISTMAS trees are being sold at a profit of more than 400 per cent by up-market garden centres, it was claimed yesterday.

The British Christmas Tree Growers' Association said it was 'horrified' by the mark-ups, which mean that a 6ft Norway spruce, which may cost only pounds 5 to pounds 6 wholesale, is retailing for up to pounds 32.

Tony Richardson, secretary of the association, said the biggest mark-ups had been reported from garden centres in central London. Supermarkets and garden centres in the country were selling them more cheaply. A typical retail price for a 6ft tree is about pounds 10.

A survey of garden centres by the Independent has found prices ranging from pounds 6.99 to pounds 19.95 for a 6ft Norway spruce, the 'traditional' Christmas tree which accounts for about 70 per cent of the 5 million trees sold in Britain each Christmas.

The cheapest trees were at B & Q, the do-it-yourself chain, where a Norway spruce between 4ft and 7ft high costs pounds 6.99.

The most expensive were garden centres near the centre of London, where prices were up to pounds 19.95. Trees were also cheaper in the West Country and the North-east of England.

According to the Institute of Trading Standards Administration, there is no limit on what retailers can charge for products as long as the prices are fairly displayed and customers are not misled. 'If you can get pounds 1,000 for a biro, you are entitled to do it,' it said.

However, Maj-Gen Richardson said growers were upset because high prices could persuade people to buy artificial trees, which have claimed a growing share of the Christmas market: about 2 million are sold each year. The association claims real trees are more environmentally friendly than artificial ones because they 'soak up' carbon dioxide, the main cause of global warming, as they grow.

Many people are also paying more for their trees this year because they have turned to new species which retain their needles better.

A typical 4ft Norway spruce has 150,000 needles, many of which end up on the carpet as the tree dries out. According to the Consumers' Association, Nordmann and Noble firs hold their needles better, but can cost twice as much as the Norway spruce.

Britain could be heading for a record number of home-grown Christmas trees this year. Because of a slump in imports, which are mainly from Denmark, British trees will account for an estimated 4.2 million of the 5 million sold, 1 million more than two years ago. Last year sterling devaluation made imports more expensive. The Danes are also sending more trees to Eastern Europe.

----------------------------------------------------------------- TABLE: GARDEN CENTRE PRICES FOR A SIX-FOOT NORWAY SPRUCE ----------------------------------------------------------------- Hampstead Garden Centre, north London pounds 19.95 The Chelsea Gardener, London pounds 17.95 Fulham Palace Garden Centre, west London pounds 16 Yates Garden Centre, Altrincham, Cheshire pounds 13.50 Findlay Clark, Aberdeen pounds 11.99 Armitage's, Huddersfield pounds 10.99 (6-7ft) High Trees, Leeds pounds 10.95 Notcutts, Solihull pounds 10.45 Dobbies, Cumbernauld pounds 9.99 Clays, Sunderland pounds 8.94 Bernaville Nurseries, Exeter pounds 8.50 B&Q pounds 6.99 -----------------------------------------------------------------

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