Commentary

Duck! The Girl Scouts Are Coming

I duck behind my desk, which looks out on my front stoop, whenever someone resembling a Jehovah's Witness, New York Public Interest Research Group student/solicitors (do-gooders are the worst nags out there) or a Verizon FiOS salesman approaches the door. But here it is, months into the Girl Scout Cookie-selling season, and I've been downright disappointed that no young ladies have come by selling cookies this year. What better cause can there be than scouting and Thin Mints (in moderation, of course)?

Well, it seems that the Girl Scouts find themselves in one of those "teachable moments" that educators talk about. And everybody -- from the organization itself to environmentalists to nutritionists to local governments -- has a lesson plan.

Derek Thomson spilled the beans on a new sales strategy on The Atlantic site recently. It seems the scouts realized they have overextended (too many "no thanks" to Thank U Berry Much and other lines) and are cutting back to their half dozen bestsellers: Thin Mints, Samoas, Tagalongs, Trefoils, Do-Si-Dos, or Lemon Chalet Cremes.

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Thompson got his hands on a PowerPoint that spells out the new sales plan. It begins by reminding us that the product is a "once a year treat that should be enjoyed in moderation" -- a great line for budding salespeople to appropriate everywhere. It also suggests that www.girlscouts.org is the best way to find cookies "as long as you know your zip code" and suggests that an excellent way to "help a girl reach her goals" would be to buy a "CASE" of cookies. So much for moderation.

As far as life lessons   go, they've always been part of the cookie-selling experience. But now there's a lot more about achieving bottom-line results with less product. "We teach the girls about supply chain issues and the need for efficiencies," according to vp of communications Denise Pesich.

The scouts also are learning a lesson in how wonderfully wacky government can be down in Savannah, Ga., where they've been banned from peddling their wares at Bull Street and Oglethorpe Avenue. That happens to be right outside the home of founder Juliette Gordon Low. Despite all sorts of anguished quotes from politicians and bureaucrats, there doesn't seem to be a way to get around a local law that prohibits sidewalk selling.

Jan McKinney, who heads product sales for the Girl Scouts of Historic Georgia, brings a measure of equanimity to the situation. "We try to teach [the girls] that in business you have to adjust to things that happen, adapt to the market and follow the law," she told a reporter. "It's a real-world experience."

Okay, no crying over spilt milk and that's the way the cookie crumbles. But how's this for a headline that's sure to upset young women everywhere: "Are Girl Scout cookies killing orangutans?" It ran in Grist recently and retells the tale of two Michigan scouts -- Rhiannon Tomtishen and Madison Vorva -- who discovered that palm oil is an ingredient in several cookie recipes.

Glenn Hurowitz writes that palm oil is the "No. 1 culprit behind deforestation in Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia and Malaysia" and suggests that Girl Scout cookies have had a hand in "destroying the forest homes of endangered wildlife like orangutans, pygmy elephants, and Sumatran tigers." Not to mention "displacing indigenous people."

The girls began a campaign back in 2006 "to encourage the Girl Scouts to switch to more environmentally friendly (and healthier) alternatives like canola oil," Hurowitz reports.

Whoa! Hold the phone! Did somebody say canola oil? Well, you can be sure that engendered some earnest debate online about the nutritional merits of this man-made concoction.

Then, Christina Le Beau pointed out in her (well-written and reported) Spoonfed blog, there are also refined sugars and oils, GMOS, chemicals such as artificial coloring and "pesticide-laden" cottenseed oil in the cookies. Not to mention high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, partially hydrogenated oils, trans fats and artificial coloring, as the Mama Says blog does.

I'm going to make a confession here. I spied a "Limited Edition" container of Edy's Slow Churned Girl Scouts Thin Mint Cookie ice cream on a you've-been-working-out-hard-go-ahead-and-splurge-a-bit-trip to the A&P last weekend. There was only one left and I grabbed it. Ate about a quarter of the carton when I got home before squirreling it away in the back of the freezer where it would be difficult for anyone else to find.

But the truth is, like the snowfalls of our youth, something's not the same with the taste. I've noticed this in the cookies themselves, too, in recent years. I don't know what bad-for-me ingredients were taken out but I think I may as well sticking to organic multigrain flatbread.

And I think I'll duck if I see some Girl Scouts coming up the walk, too, and maybe just toss them a few dollars at their table at the supermarket. Buying a box of cookies isn't just a battle between one's rational mind and the forces of internal compulsions anymore. It's fraught with political, economic, environmental and nutritional issues. But in the meantime, I think I've good a few scoops left in that container hidden beneath the Boca burgers

5 comments about "Duck! The Girl Scouts Are Coming".
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  1. Roger Saunders from PROSPER BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT, March 9, 2011 at 9:10 a.m.

    Thom -- Grandma told us all a very long time ago, "All things in moderation."

    A couple of cookies are not going to destroy the planet. Hope that you and millions of other folks continue to eat good tasting snacks, and support a superb cause like Scouting.

    The misguided 'Greens' have, unfortunately, misguided others, like the two young Scouts to whom you refer. That's a shame. Let's hope that they do a more thorough study of the use and impact of Palm Oil coming from Malaysia.

  2. Erin Read from Creating Results, Inc., March 9, 2011 at 9:15 a.m.

    Thom, fun post! I'd say there are two other culprits to add to your list of political, economic, and nutritional issues.

    First, the world is scarier. We're lucky enough to live in a community where my daughter (a Cadette) knows every neighbor by name. It's not a sales call, it's a visit with yummy benefits. But many American girls don't know their neighbors and don't feel safe going door to door even with a grown-up along.

    Second, we're moving from cookie bites to bytes and cookies. Email and Facebook are becoming the marketing platforms of choice. Scouts efficiently reach a targeted group of people who already know and support them. These girls are definitely adapting to the market!

    The several pounds I gained this cookie season prove the cookies taste as good as ever. If you haven't tried the new Shout-Outs, DM me on Twitter (@CreatingResults) - my daughter will be at your door ASAP.

  3. Amy Fanter from Odds On Promotions, March 9, 2011 at 1:07 p.m.

    As a mother of a Brownie - and a troop leader I can tell you that hitting the neighborhood to sell cookies is tough given the quick turn around time.... plus you cant just send the kids out in this day and age. I havent yet indulged in having any this year -- probably because I've had to handle so many boxes this year, but sidewalk selling prohibited --- for girl scouts, really? more PC baloney

  4. Rich Mistkowski from Proforma ROI Promotions, March 10, 2011 at 9:20 a.m.

    Never mind that everyone is WAY TOO politically correct now a days. Read Glen Hurowitz blog post and found out who the guy was. Him and his organization should continue to stick with their idealistic views and policies and stay out of the Girl Scouts business. (somehow I think that we're funding his organization with our tax dollars. Just a hunch)

    The cookies were/still are pretty good. The problem that i have is that they are NOW "single serve". The number of cookies seems to be shrinking inside the packages, just like the ice cream in your grocer's freezer. I'm ok with everything in moderation, but give me some cookies when I pay for them, will you please?

    My daughter is a scout and I think selling cookies is a great way to get them involved in a team activity and learn a little bit about the importance of working and contributing to something.

  5. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, April 5, 2011 at 4:02 p.m.

    First lesson in business I learned in Girl Scouts. Have it with you. St. A's troop always used to take orders before the start. If that's there moral strategy, we let them and we got them back. 2 of us make sure our mothers were cookie chairman and had the cookies. We took them on consignment with our mother's shopping carts and hit those same houses. "Oh, you have them with you." So instead of ordering a couple of boxes, we sold them 6. And we could come back later with more.

    As for ingrediants, that's a problem that can be solved with experts in the field. As for measly amounts of cookies, that needs to be addressed. Note, too, what percentage is actually going to the troops and what percentage is eaten by the manufacturer and adminstration? I think the Girl Scouts are getting crumbled by greedy adults. And no, people are not buying a couple of boxes of cookies via networking. Shipping remember?

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