It is January, which way Girl enlightenment cookie season 2019 has officially begun, an yearly tradition in which brigades of girls in earth-toned uniforms eagle boxes of cookie to family, friends, and strangers. Yet unlike many fundraising initiatives — national Public Radio, for example, or elementary school wrapping file sales — Girl reconnaissance Cookies are beloved. They space beloved choose apple pie is beloved, or puppies.

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Girl scout cookies room a triumph: the marketing, of cookie-baking, that youthful entrepreneurship. In between January and April every year, the much more than one million scouts in the U.S. Sell about 200 million box of the cookies, Fortune recently reported. Exactly how much is that, in cookie terms? Girl enlightenment cookie sales optimal Oreos. They height Chips Ahoy and also Milano combined. For general comparison’s sake, the entire populace of America is only 325.7 million. Space we that excited about young women marketing things? room Trefoils that good? What is walking on?

To unpack this mystery, let’s begin with the very straightforward facts.

The an easy facts the Girl reconnaissance cookies

Toward a history of Girl scout Cookies, homemade sugar cookies to S’mores

The recorded background of Girl Scout cookies dates ago to 1917 — 5 years after the organization was started — as soon as a convoy of Girl Scouts in Muskogee, Oklahoma, hosted a cookie revenue in their high institution cafeteria together a method to money troop activities. Yet the initial cookies were home-baked, just continuous cookie-cookies. Word spread; a convoy in Connecticut began selling, and then a convoy in Massachusetts.

In July 1922, the American Girl magazine released a recipe for straightforward sugar cookies, intended because that troop sales. It’s a pretty straightforward recipe: butter, sugar, flour, eggs. Ingredients cost in between 26 and 36 cents and also would yield 6 or 7 dozen cookies, which, the publication suggested, could be offered door to door for 25 to 30 cent per dozen.


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GSUSA
As Atlas Obscura point out out, the simplicity to be important since the scouts were baking the cookie themselves. However even ago in the bootstrapping olden days, older and savvier loved ones may have actually been involved. “Grandma supplied to bake the cookies,” a then-83-year-old previous Girl Scout told Time. “I was never the kitchen cooker, I continued to be outside.”

The era of home baking didn’t last long: In 1934, the Girl Scouts of higher Philadelphia Council sold the very first commercially small version. 2 years later, the national Girl Scout organization switched to commercial bakers, and that to be the finish of the Girl enlightenment baking era. In 1939 — a historical year for cookies — the Girl Scouts introduced the “first-ever iteration of the thin Mint, then called ‘Cooky-Mints,’” Time says, noting the in the years the followed, the trim mint-chocolate cookies went by a totality roster of minty names, including coco Mint, thin Mint, Cookie Mint, and then chocolate Mint (again), slim Mints, slim Mint (singular!), and then ago to thin Mints once more.

(There was a quick cookie hiatus during world War II, when flour, sugar, and also butter shortages led the Girl Scouts to pivot far from cookies and toward calendars, but one that the much less heralded exclusive right of the war’s finish was that they to be able to return to cookies.)

By 1951, the simple cookie lineup had been finalized, reports Smithsonian: a sandwich cookie, a shortbread cookie, and also a slim Mint/Thin Mints/Chocolate Mint variety, i beg your pardon is quiet the No. 1 best-seller, probably because it is the best.

At one allude in the so late ’40s, there were 29 different bakeries making Girl enlightenment cookies. However by the ’60s, the Girl Scouts trimmed their team of license is granted bakers to 14, because that the sake of cookie continuity. Through the so late ’70s, they were under to four, and by the 1990s, the Girl Scouts had winnowed the field again, to two.


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Girl Scouts offering cookies at a cookie stand. GSUSA
Not all cookies have actually been lasting hits. Shortbread (also known as Trefoils) and Thin Mints room enduring classics. Various other cookies have been shed to time. Kookaburras — the “lovechild that a Rice Krispies treat and a Twix bar,” recalls a wistful mental Floss article — came and also went in the ’80s. Gold Yangles, an experimental cheese cracker, was excised indigenous the lineup in 1992.

“The decision around cookie arrays for each Girl reconnaissance Cookie season is a solution to customer trends and feedback, as well as sales,” Stewart Goodbody, director of communications Girl Scouts the the USA, told the Washington Post. The reduced-fat to apologize Cinnamons and also Olé Olés the the ultra-low-fat ’90s space a relic of your era; now we have Toffee-tastics and, this year, Caramel chocolate Chip Cookies, both of which space gluten-free.

Which cookie you gain — and what those cookie taste like — depends on wherein you live

Today, Girl Scout cookies are produced by two bakeries: abc Bakers and small Brownie Bakers. This is why near-identical cookie have various names — why some world know chocolate-striped coconut-caramel rings as “Samoas” (a product of small Brownie Bakers) and others understand them as “Caramel deLites” (a product of abc Bakers).


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abc Bakers’ version of the S’mores cookie. GSUSA
In Detroit, you gain Tagalongs, small Brownie’s entry right into the peanut butter/chocolate cookie canon. But in Chicago, you gain Peanut Butter Patties, by alphabet Bakers, instead. Room the cookie the same? In spirit, yes. In reality, there are slight sports in the recipes, obvious on the nutritional panel, and likewise by looking at it. Also cookies that go by the exact same name nationwide — a thin Mint is always a thin Mint — taste different relying on who renders them.

The Los Angeles Times, which has actually meticulously tracked the geographical differences between cookies, defines that an alphabet Bakers slim Mint is “crunchier, with much more mint than chocolate in each bite,” if the tiny Brownie Bakers cookie — quiet a slim Mint! — has actually a “richer smoother cacao coating” v a “distinct peppermint taste.” Or think about the S’mores cookie, a 2017 enhancement to the Girl enlightenment cookie canon, i beg your pardon is, in fact, two distinctive cookies that share one name.

According come the brand-new York Times, the GSUSA presented the idea because that the S’more to both bakeries, which created their very own cookie-fied versions of the campfire classic. (As the Girl Scouts’ FAQ cookie web page says, “There’s no wrong way to eat s’mores!”) The abc S’more, every the LA time analysis, is a chocolate-covered square through a “faint vanilla/marshmallow layer” and a bigger graham cracker portion. The little Brownie variation, however, is a blond-looking sandwich cookie filled through a great of chocolate and also another the “marshmallowlike icing,” published with the clarifying words “Girl scout S’mores.”


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tiny Brownie Bakers’ variation of the S’mores cookie. GSUSA
Some cookies, meanwhile, room only easily accessible through one baker or the other. Over there is no exact little Brownie indistinguishable of ABC’s Thanks-a-Lots, shortbread rounds v fudge bottoms, and no an exact ABC interpretation of little Brownie’s gluten-free Toffee-tastic cookies, return this year, alphabet launched one more gluten-free offering, a caramel chocolate chip melange. Each baker, a Girl reconnaissance spokesperson told the Washington Post, deserve to offer up to eight varieties; as new cookies come, old cookie go.

ABC Bakers is based in Richmond, Virginia; tiny Brownie Bakers in Louisville, Kentucky. And also so one can imagine that this would certainly somehow inform which cookies are offered where. But this would certainly be a mistake. Together the LA times map shows, the 2 bakeries’ cookies display up all over the country: parts of Kentucky, residence of small Brownie, usage ABC, and the coastal tip that Virginia, i m sorry is normally ABC turf, uses tiny Brownie. That’s because it’s up to the troops themselves which bakery come use: Each local council — there space 112, nationwide — chooses which baker to contract with, and also by extension, which variation of thin Mints girlfriend get.

Girl scout cookies are an $800 million business

How big is the cookie business? fortune spells it out: during prime cookie season, the nation’s Girl Scouts — more than one million of them — do about $800 million in full cookie sales.

For the remainder of the cookie market, Girl enlightenment cookie season is an inevitable truth of life. “The annual Girl reconnaissance cookie sale is a force of nature in ~ the nationwide level,” man Frank, a Mintel food analyst, told USA Today. “Big companies like Kraft understand it’s coming, and also they’ve learned to live through it. It’s like a storm and also there’s nothing they have the right to do but wait for it come pass, since there is no upside to marketing versus the Girl Scouts.”

The staggering sales, together the Girl Scout products are fond that pointing out, do the cookie routine the “largest financial invest in girls each year in the unified States.”

Because each local council to adjust its own prices, the cost of a box of cookies relies on the realities the your regional market. In 2017, the price jumped overall, with many locations seeing boxes go from $3.50 or $4 to a cool $5. (This year gluten-free Caramel coco Chips may cost a little bit more, to “offset high production costs,” the brand-new York post reports.)


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Girl Scouts prepare to market their stock. GSUSA
“All of the net revenue indigenous cookie sales — 100 percent of the — stays within a Girl reconnaissance council’s neighborhood area to advantage girls and also their council,” a Girl reconnaissance rep assured Bustle. The proceeds space split between the council — which funds things favor summer camps and also adult volunteer trainings, and also coveted cookie-selling prizes — and also the particular troop, where it goes toward tasks and projects. A typical model is “spend a little, save a little, share a little,” Goodbody called me. Making these decisions together a team is an essential part that the process.

How specifically the revenues get divided is again approximately the regional council, however for a situation study, let’s turn to the Girl Scouts of western Pennsylvania, who break down their financials favor this:

50 percent goes come council-sponsored programs, events, properties, training, and also scholarships.24 percent goes to the price of the cookies.23 percent goes come troop proceeds, girl recognitions, and also service unit bonuses.3 percent goes to the cost of Cookie routine support.

Managing perform is important. The logistics of ordering cookie stock — taking preorders matches buying cookie in advancement to have ready top top the point out — is a science and also an art. There space door-to-door sales. There room booth sales, whereby troops set up cookie pop-ups in ~ well-traversed locations. (Would you favor to find a booth near you? The Girl Scouts have an app for that.) There space sales online.

Troops purchase the share they offer — if a girl has boxes to sell, she or her household bought those crate — which method it is vital to actually market them. What to do with unsold cookies is a popular topic top top parental article boards.

It’s not just around the cookies

“I deserve to say this till I’m blue in the face,” Goodbody tells me, “but it’s about so much much more than cookies.” She points out that much more than fifty percent of “female entrepreneurs and business owners are Girl reconnaissance alums,” according to data indigenous the Girl Scout study Institute. In the 2018 midterms, she notes, “the majority of females” chosen to Congress were Girl Scouts once.

“This is the an initial career move for millions of girls,” she says. Because that a 5- or 6- or 7-year-old, it’s a big deal to feeling in manage of anything, given that, in ~ 5 or 6 or 7, friend aren’t even in regulate of when you go to bed. “People are telling friend what to execute all the time and here girlfriend are handling money and also deciding where that money is going to go and figuring out just how to market yourself and your product to customers.”

The Girl Scouts’ official materials credit cookie sales because that instilling girls with five vital skills: goal-setting, decision-making, money management, world skills, and business ethics. “Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer, press ahead and see the bigger picture,” says Katelyn, a “cookie entrepreneur” quoted top top the site.


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Girl Scouts walking door to door. GSUSA
“Selling cookie is usually a girl’s very first exposure come the civilization of business,” Frances Hesselbein, climate the nationwide executive director of the Girl Scouts, called the brand-new York Times. “She learns how to meet the public, talk about a product, offer the product and also is responsible because that collecting money, giving change and moving the product. That’s quite a business venture for a 7-year-old.’’

In the Washington Post, Kelly Richmond Pope, as soon as a Girl Scout, currently a professor that forensic accounting, recalls “long but on the weekend of go door to door through my parents, working on mine ‘cookie elevator pitch’ in in between houses. Ns knew which residences were straightforward sells and which to be tougher. I didn’t establish at the time that i was finding out marketing strategy in addition to sales.” She walk on come credit marketing cookies v teaching she “how to stand up to the temptation come embezzle” — a an excellent lesson for us all! — to collection realistic goals, and also to take responsibility for she work.

“I desire to it is in a neurosurgeon,” Miranda, a 15-year-old Girl Scout from Brooklyn, told Fortune between cookie transactions. “As a girl scout, i am able come execute a plan, so when I’m a neurosurgeon and also I desire to gain into the brain, I need to execute a plan.”


Is over there something perhaps vaguely sinister around celebrating the sixth-grader who placed in “11-, 12-, 13-hour days” peddling cookies? with all early respect: yes. Would certainly it it is in nice to have a group organization for girls the did no lean rather so heavily on structure character by selling things on instead of of a significant corporation? additionally yes. In ~ the exact same time, the cookie regime is fantastic preparation because that the people that actually exists. “When girlfriend know exactly how to market something, you’re kind of set for life,” Goodbody says. That is tough to argue.

Of course, every this hinges on one essential detail: The girls have to be the ones actually doing the selling. Except that if you are a human being who functions in an office v adults, you know this is not always how that goes.

“You already know precisely how this happens. You’re sitting at your desk, or pushing your cart with the grocery store store, thinking around spring, once a sheepish parent sidles up — and also he’s not also wearing a Girl reconnaissance uniform. The following thing friend know, you’ve agreed come take shipment of three boxes of Trefoils,” lamented KJ Dell’Antonia in the brand-new York Times. “It’s a freaking racket,” one Colorado mom told Thrillist. “I need to say, I sort of dread Girl reconnaissance Cookie season. That a the majority of work because that me!”

The Girl Scouts, for their part, perform not condone this practice. “A girl,” Goodbody says, “is constantly supposed to initiate the sale.” follow to the organization, delegating your parents come foist cookie on their colleagues does not constitute “executing a plan.”


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A Girl Scout offering her own cookies. GSUSA
Fears about losing the program’s education edge led the Girl Scouts to question launching sales online. Yet for the 2015 season, Girl Scouts that the USA launched the “Digital Cookie” platform, which permits online sales (teaching “vital entrepreneurial great in virtual marketing, applications use, and e-commerce”). The twisted is the you can only purchase cookies with a girl’s personal cookie website. And to accessibility it, a potential customer needs a digital invitation from a participating Girl Scout, which method you need a connection to an yes, really Girl Scout, perhaps since you are related to her. (Girl Scouts space not supposed to pass the end their cookie URL to strangers, for safety reasons.)

There is one small loophole in the system: Amazon. Yet while friend can technically buy castle online, without connecting with a solitary girl, the Girl Scouts of the USA would certainly strongly like you do not.

Girl enlightenment cookies are a comforting tradition

Girl Scout cookie do have detractors. Besides exasperated parents, there are health and wellness advocates that object come the cookies, top top the grounds that they’re cookies. “Girl enlightenment cookies are just one more sign that the problem of hyperconsumption,” pediatric endocrinologist Robert Lustig said NPR. “This is simply another component of this toxic food chain that kids are awash in,” Susan Rubin, a dentist rotate nutritionist and also former troop leader, called the new York Times. “At some point, neighborhoods are walk to need to walk away from the Do-Si-Dos.”

But us haven’t. People love Girl enlightenment cookies. Component of the is the taste; they room eminently edible, because they space cookies. Component of that is the nostalgia. They remind you that childhood, just how you once were a Girl Scout, or knew a Girl Scout, or ate cookies. Castle are straightforward and pure.

“The Girl enlightenment cookie is a item of Americana,” Goodbody says. There is a photo in the Girl reconnaissance archives of grace Coolidge eat Girl Scout cookie on the White residence lawn.

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very first lady elegant Coolidge eating a Girl scout cookie on the White home lawn. Library of Congress, Harris & Ewing photograph collection castle are likewise pleasantly limited. “Girl reconnaissance cookies just come about once a year,” take care of Balzer, a nationwide food experienced at the NPD team research firm, called USA Today, “and they’re very much prefer Halloween is to candy and also Thanksgiving is to turkey.”

To Goodbody, a big part the the very nice one is civic-minded: people want to assistance the girls themselves. “You desire to she to succeed, and you want to answers in a method that’s going to construct her an abilities so that she’s confident and also continues come take that risk and knock ~ above the next door.”

Girl enlightenment cookies space not the finest kind of cookies. Yet it no matter, due to the fact that they serve vital social function: They offer us all a high-minded pardon to do the point we all currently want to do — buy and eat cookies.

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