The Girl Scouts have an unusual problem this year: 15 million boxes of unsold cookies.
The impact will be felt by local councils and soldiers, who rely on cookie sales for programming, travel, camping and other activities. The Girl Scouts typically sell about 200 million boxes of cookies per year, or about $800 million worth.
Rebecca Latham, CEO of the Girl Scouts of New Mexico Trails, said her council had 22,000 boxes left at the end of the sales season in late spring, even though the girls continued to use innovative sales methods such as drive-thru booths and contact-free delivery. Tried.
Latham said troops in his area sold 805,000 boxes of cookies last year; This year, they sold for just under 600,000. He said the shortage meant that the council may not be able to invest in improving infrastructure in their camps or fill some of the staff positions.
The council is now encouraging people to purchase the box online through its Hometown Heroes program, which distributes cookies to health care workers, firefighters and others. It also organized one-day sales with organizations such as the New Mexico United Soccer Team, to further reduce the total.
Parsi said that the Girl Scouts of USA has forecast lower sales this year due to the pandemic. But coronavirus restrictions were constantly changing, and the cookie orders placed by its 111 local councils with bakers last fall were still too optimistic.
By early spring, when soldiers usually set up booths to sell cookies in person, US coronavirus cases were still at their peak. Hundreds of girls chose not to sell cookies in person. Online sales and even a delivery partnership with Grubhub failed to make up the difference.
As a result, there were approximately 15 million boxes of cookies left by the end of the cookie season. Most — about 12 million boxes — reside with two bakers, Louisville, Kentucky-based Little Brownie Bakers and Brownsburg, Indiana-based ABC Bakers. Another 3 million boxes are in the hands of Girl Scout councils, who are scrambling to sell or donate them. Cookies have a shelf life of 12 months.
It’s not clear how much financial loss the Girl Scouts suffered because of the drop in sales because the organization would not disclose those figures. And it’s not the biggest blow to the cookie program ever. This likely came about during World War II, when wartime shortages of sugar, butter and flour forced the Girl Scouts to shift from selling cookies to calendars.
But the glut of cookies has ignited some burning issues within the ranks of the Girl Scouts. Some local leaders say this year’s slow sales should have been better anticipated because falling subscriptions threatened cookie sales even before the pandemic began. About 1.7 million girls were enrolled in the Girl Scouts in 2019, a decrease of about 30% from 2009.
“Without girls, there is no cookie program. Unfortunately, it took a global pandemic to bring all the problems to the surface,” said Agenia Clark, president and CEO of the Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee, a local council.
Clark and some other local leaders were able to tout a cookie stockpile because they calculated their own sales projections rather than relying on guidance from the national office. Clark believes that a new technology platform adopted by the Girl Scouts is not adequately anticipating the decline in membership and their impact. In April, she sued the Girl Scouts of the USA because she doesn’t want her council to be forced to use that platform.
Parsis acknowledged that membership fell during the pandemic as soldiers struggled to figure out ways to meet safely. But those numbers are already rebounding, she said.
There were other reasons for the decline in sales. Some local leaders say they may have sold cookies this year, but chose not to because of an Associated Press story linking child labor to palm oil, which is used to make Girl Scout cookies.
Army leader Gina Verdibello in Jersey City, New Jersey, said her 21-man contingent, consisting of girls ages 10 to 15, decided to boycott this year’s cookie event and protested at her city hall . Verdibello said she knows of at least a dozen other soldiers who chose not to sell because of the palm oil issue.
“We want to sell cookies. This is part of our talk. But it is putting a kind of damage on him,” said Verdibello, whose troop continues activities with donations from people who have heard about his boycott.
Parsi said such boycotts were not widespread. But she said the Girl Scouts are working with the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, a non-profit group that sets environmental and social standards for the industry, to make sure farmers meet those standards. are.
Ultimately, local councils will not be held financially responsible for the 12 million boxes residing in the two bakers. Little Brownie Bakers and ABC Bakers said they are working with Girl Scouts to sell or donate cookies to places like food banks and the military. Bakers cannot sell directly to grocers as this may reduce the importance of annual cookie sales. But they can sell to institutional buyers like prisons.
Parsi said bakers and councils have sometimes dealt with excess inventory due to weather events such as snow storms or tornadoes. But this level is unprecedented.
She said that some key points like the partnership with Grubhub are likely to be here. But the girls are also looking forward to coming back to their booth next year.
“Girl Scout cookie season isn’t just when you buy cookies,” she said. “It’s chatting with girls. It’s Americana.”