Cookie Cutters: Girl Scouts Trim Their Lineup for Lean Times
Friday, January 28, 2011
Posted by: jennifer punch
Retrieved from: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704881304576093691253234896.html?mod=WSJ_WSJ_US_News_6
Fewer in the Package, Less Packaging; No More Thank U Berry Munch
By SHELLY BANJO
The stale economy is teaching Girl Scouts a new lesson: the way the cookies crumble.
As the annual selling season gets under way for the organization's iconic cookies, Girl Scouts councils are beginning to say adios to Dulce de Leche, no thanks to Thank U Berry Munch and farewell to a whole slew of other varieties added in recent years.
To cut costs and increase revenue, a dozen Girl Scouts councils are testing out a plan to hawk just six different cookies.
Lovers of the chocolaty Thin Mints, crunchy peanut-buttery Do-Si-Dos and buttery Trefoils shortbread don't need to fret. The Girl Scouts governing body has told the two commercial bakers the scouts deal with that they must produce those three every year. Likewise, Samoas (called Caramel deLites in some parts of the country) and Lemon Chalet Cremes will also have a place in the pantry this year. So, too, Tagalongs (also known as Peanut Butter Patties).
Cookie sales have long been a big moneymaker for the Girl Scouts of the USA, bringing in more than $714 million a year, or up to two-thirds of many of the 112 councils' annual budgets. But it wasn't until the scouts began an organization-wide restructuring in 2004 that the Girl Scouts started to get shrewd about marketing.
The move seems to be in harmony with Americans' getting back to basics—downsizing everything from Christmas gifts to family homes after years of frivolous spending.
"We're all seeking a little more simplicity," says Amanda Hamaker, the manager of national product sales for the Girl Scouts, which have been selling cookies since 1917.
A dozen councils testing the cutbacks with licensed baker Little Brownie Bakers, which is owned by Kellogg Co., hope to streamline sales, speed up cookie delivery and, ultimately, increase profits. To teach girls confidence and business basics, the nonprofit is holding seminars and so-called cookie colleges to explain to schoolgirls why the changes make business sense.
"Our top five varieties make up 77% of cookie sales," Ms. Hamaker says. "The others are yummy and fun, but they're side dressing—leaving councils with an awful lot of alternate varieties left over."
So no more Thank U Berry Munch or All Abouts shortbread cookies dipped in fudge, which were flops in years past.
"The Thank U Berry Munch tasted a bit like Cap'n Crunch Berries cereal instead of a cookie," says 11-year-old Kamryn Good, a top seller in eastern Oklahoma who last year printed Girl Scout business cards to help her sales.
Other duds included the healthier varieties offered in the trans-fat-free craze in 2007 and the "diabetic-friendly" sugar-free Chocolate Chips.
Dulce de Leche cookies, "inspired by the classic confections of Latin America," says the Little Brownie Bakers website, were created to go along with the Girl Scouts diversity initiative.
"The Dulce de Leche cookies were another attempt to attract the Spanish-speaking market, but I don't think Spanish-speaking people bought any more than English-speaking folks," says Donna Ceravolo, executive director and CEO of the Girl Scouts of Nassau County in New York.
The so-called Super Six pilot program is the Scouts' latest way to increase profit. Last year, both of the Girl Scout cookies bakers reduced certain varieties of cookies by one ounce per box. The Lemon Chalet Cremes, which were subsequently recalled last year because of an apparent "odd odor and taste," also got smaller.
This year, a number of councils—from New York to Chicago—have raised the price of a box of cookies to $4. (Cookies are cheaper in such places as Duluth, Minn., and Dallas.)
"Cookie sales have changed drastically since I was a girl," says Brandi Norman, whose 14-year-old daughter, Peach Norman Owen, sold 2,000 boxes of cookies last year in Cincinnati for the Western Ohio Council. "I tell Peach that she's selling more than cookies, she's selling people's impressions of Girl Scouts."
By focusing on business approaches, and on skills and lessons the program teaches girls, the Scouts have been able to reverse a six-year decline in cookie sales of about 1% every year until last year, when profits rose from $700 million to $714 million.
Roni Luckenbill, chief operating officer at the Western Ohio council, a Girl Scouts employee for more than 30 years, says limiting the flavors to six will save her council a penny per box. This year, for the first time, individual scouts will be allowed to advertise online.
At the same time, these modern management techniques are crowding in on a bit of Americana that some want to savor.
ABC Bakers, the Richmond, Va., company owned by Interbake Foods LLC that has been with the Girl Scouts since 1937, isn't champing at the bit to participate in the Super Six program. "ABC is not in agreement with this strategy and has specifically indicated they do not see the reduction in varieties as cost saving," the Girl Scouts' Ms. Hamaker says.
Instead this year the baker chose to cut costs by offering a new Thanks-A-Lot cookie, a shortbread dipped in fudge, in plastic packaging instead of the customary cardboard box, so as to save on the cost of 150 tons of paperboard.
ABC Bakers declined to be interviewed for this story.
Meanwhile, some young scouts bemoan the early retirement of cookies they say weren't given enough time to win over customers.
"I was thinking if we would have sold enough of the new cookies last year, they might have given them a chance," says Josephine Woytas, a 12-year-old scout in Oologah, Okla., who with her sister Isabelle sold more than 1,100 boxes of cookies last year.
Her family still craves the caramel Dulce de Leche cookies so much that they hoarded a few boxes last year and are rationing cookies to make them last as long as possible.
"I can't believe they took those away," young Ms. Woytas says. "We liked them so much I ordered a box and paid for it all by myself, and then my dad went behind my back and ate them."
Her dad bought her a replacement box, but Ms. Woytas says she has learned a marketing lesson: "I guess what it comes down to is the consumer's choice." Write to Shelly Banjo at email@example.com