Christmas tree counterfeiting scandals aren’t what I thought I’d see this year, but it’s 2020 and really anything weird is on the table at this point. It looks as though some bigger tree wholesalers during the holiday season have been part of a scam to relabel certain trees in an effort to defraud buyers in a Christmas tree bait and switch.
According to a complaint filed in New York, company Evergreen East alleges that Home Depot and Whole Foods labeled some of their trees as Fraser Firs, considered the gold standard of Christmas trees. But instead, the companies were peddling Canadian balsam firs – which are much cheaper and lower quality – labeled as Frasers and sold at a premium.
This isn’t the only allegation to come out of the complaint either. Evergreen East alleges that Home Depot and Whole Foods wholesaler Bottomly claims to grow all of their trees in the Carolinas, but were actually importing them from Canada. They are purportedly shipping the trees south and claiming they were rooted in the Carolinas all along.
Evergreen East claims that the bigger chain stores, operating in the pricier sections of New York City, were well aware of the Christmas tree fraud and did nothing to correct it. Instead, as the claims state, they marked up the prices and took advantage of unsuspecting buyers, while also damaging other local tree sellers who couldn’t keep up with the undercut on pricing. The suit seeks to claim damages from the loss of business, as well as compensate buyers who thought they were getting a better tree.
Christmas tree sales are obviously a big business this time of year. Last year, almost 33 million trees were sold across the United States, which was the highest since 2013. Although real tree sales are up, plastic tree sales have also seen a dramatic increase as well. Those numbers have doubled over the last decade to almost 24 million sold last year alone.
As of this writing, the National Christmas Tree Association hasn’t commented on the fraud allegations. But Home Depot is calling the situation a simple mistake in labeling that had almost no impact on the customers themselves. Home Depot claims that the average customer would have seen no significant dropoff in the quality of the tree, even if it was incorrectly labeled.
This might also be an isolated incident, since the suit only focuses on certain stores in New York City. It doesn’t look like we are seeing a nationwide fraud scandal that could rock the Christmas tree sales market to its very core, but we will have to wait to see how this suit turns out. Whole Foods has filed for a dismissal, claiming lack of evidence. So while the Evergreen East Christmas tree sleuthing might have dug up a scandal, it’s unclear if there are any legal legs for the suit when all is said and done.