Shops branch out into festive trade

At this time of year, while expatriate families hunt high and low for the perfect Christmas tree, all Suzanne Jackson has to do is pick up the phone.
Suzanne Jackson buys a fresh Christmas tree each year as a holiday tradition. Lee Hoagland / The National
Suzanne Jackson buys a fresh Christmas tree each year as a holiday tradition. Lee Hoagland / The National

DUBAI // At this time of year, while expatriate families hunt high and low for the perfect Christmas tree, all Suzanne Jackson has to do is pick up the phone.

The British nurse has her “Christmas tree man” on speed dial, and he never lets her down. She points to the name “Xmas tree man” on her phone screen.

Every year for nearly a decade, Mrs Jackson has been ringing up Ghulshan Gafoor at National Flowers in the Al Satwa plant market in the weeks leading up to Christmas. And every year, Mr Gafoor sets aside the cream of the crop for her to choose from.

“These are gorgeous, look,” said Mrs Jackson of two lush Canadian Frasers, each with needles so deeply green they look almost blue. “I can’t decide between that one and that one.”

The trees range in price from Dh550 for a small one about five feet tall to about Dh1,100 for an eight-footer. But there is plenty of room to haggle.

Mrs Jackson, a married mother of two daughters, did not say how much she paid for her eight-foot tree, but said Mr Gafoor “always gives me a good price”.

Business at the plant souq has picked up this year since Ace Hardware sold out of its fresh Christmas tree stock in the first week of December.

“We see a huge interest in our fresh trees every year and it is now almost customary to see our trees sold out around this time,” an Ace spokeswoman said. “We are very excited to see the growing demand for our trees and look forward to this enthusiasm from the market every year.”

The Ikea stores in Abu Dhabi and Dubai both entered the fresh Christmas tree market for the first time this year and sold out during the first week of December.

Spinneys, which had been selling fresh trees for the past few years, ran into “unforeseen circumstances”. A spokeswoman for Fine Foods said the trees were “not going to arrive on time”, but that the supermarket chain would sell trees next year.

Simone Jucker, a Canadian trade consultant, has been importing trees from her homeland for about four years. Customers have been pre-ordering Mrs Jucker’s Fraser firs online since October. Although the deadline to place an order has passed, customers can still get on a waiting list by emailing her at balsamfirtrees@hotmail.com.

She also imports for Oleander Flowers, which has been selling fresh Christmas trees for about 30 years.

“I approached them about the Canadian Christmas trees and they switched over about four years ago,” said Mrs Jucker.

“We had the farmer send over a sample of a branch so that they could smell it, feel it and touch it, and they really liked it. The fragrance is great.”

Mrs Jucker said she has had to double the number of trees imported this year.

“We’re getting stronger every year,” she said. “We started with one 40-foot container and this year we’re bringing in two 40-foot containers, so more than 1,000 trees.”

Last year, the UAE imported 738 fresh-cut Canadian Christmas trees, making it the sixth-largest importer of Canuck Christmas trees in the world, according to Statistics Canada.

The United States is by far the largest importer of Canadian Christmas trees. Last year, it imported 1,535,836 Canadian Christmas trees valued at about CA$25.5 million (Dh80.88m).

As of Tuesday, Umm Al Salsal Trading Flowers in Abu Dhabi’s Iranian market still had Fraser trees of various sizes in stock.

“There’s a huge demand here, too,” said Arun Varghese, who runs the shop with his mother, Ann. Even non-Christians have been seeking out the trees, he said. “It’s more of a celebration,” said Mr Varghese.

rpennington@thenational.ae

Published: December 13, 2014 04:00 AM

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