A Winnipeg community group that has been selling Christmas trees to raise money for charities claims it is being undercut by big-box stores that sell the trees at deep discounts.
The Elmwood Kildonan Service Club, which has been selling Christmas trees for charity for the past 33 years, is running a charity tree lot on Kimberly Avenue next to the YMCA-YWCA this year.
Christmas trees on the club's lot go for $60. The nearby Real Canadian Superstore on Gateway Avenue sells similar trees for about half that price.
"It concerns us because we are trying to get as much money as we possibly can for the groups that we support," Brad MacKay, the club's president, told CBC News on Monday night.
"As it is now, with our Special Olympics swim team, we can't support them to the level we used to."
MacKay said his club's operation, once the largest in the city, is now a fraction of its size due to fierce competition from stores like Real Canadian Superstore, Rona, and Home Depot, all of which sell Christmas trees in their parking lots.
In the past, the Elmwood Kildonan Service Club would sell 1,100 trees per year. This year, the non-profit only ordered 500.
Trees sold as 'loss leaders'
MacKay said he believes the big stores are selling Christmas trees as "loss leaders," meaning a price far less than what the trees actually cost.
A Balsam tree shipped from Ontario costs his group about $35. Superstore sells them for $29.99.
"It's an attempt to bring people into the store — you buy a tree, you go in, you buy something, and you come out again," he said.
"It increases their profit margin, and I understand that — it's a business decision — but at the end of the day, those of us who work in the community, who are committed to the community, do not have the opportunity to provide at the rate that we used to do in the past."
MacKay said other non-profit organizations such as the such Boy Scouts, Lions Club and Kiwanis Clubs have also seen their Christmas tree sales shrink.
A movement toward plastic trees accounts for the some of the lost sales, but he thinks the discounted trees sold at big stores are a bigger drain.
Trees sold at 'competitive prices'
A spokesperson for Loblaw Companies Ltd., which owns Superstore, did not deny the trees were sold below their cost.
"We are pleased to offer Winnipeggers 100 per cent Canadian-grown Christmas trees in our stores," the spokesperson said in an email to CBC News.
"We work hard to support local Canadian growers and offer our customers great quality trees at competitive prices. We have offered Christmas trees at our Winnipeg stores for more than two decades."
The Elmwood Kildonan Service Club staffs its tree-selling operation with volunteers, and 100 per cent of profits go to several charities, including Special Olympics, Winnipeg Harvest, and Children's Wish Foundation, and the Christmas Cheer Board.
Loblaw Companies spokesperson said the company's stores also funds charities, such as 28 different school nutrition programs in Winnipeg, Winnipeg Harvest, the Children's Rehabilitation Foundation, and the Children's Hospital Foundation.
But MacKay argues that buying trees from a non-profit ensure more of people's money goes to a good cause.
"You got to ask yourself this question: if you're going to buy a Christmas tree … do you want to support your community through this group, which is non-profit, or do you want to support a conglomerate?" he said.