More predictable than the peeping of the crocus on the lawn as a harbinger of spring is the appearance at the door of the green-clad Girl Scout cookie-pusher.
She's neat, she's sweet, she's small and smiling and she lives right up the street, so nobody turns her down. Well, hardly anybody. Now and then she runs into a meany, or a person of principle, but as a general thing it's a seller's market. Unless the household has a Girl Scout of its own or is already pledged to a neighbor's daughter, the cookie-pusher has a pushover.
Judging from figures supplied by the Girl Scout Council of the Nation's Capital, there is no escape. Last year they sold 1,461,900 boxes to the metropolitan area's approximately 3 million residents. That's roughly half a box per person.It added up to 43,857,000 cookies, or precisely 14.4 per man, woman, child, baby, passerby and drifter.
This year's olcal sales figures, according to the number of orders already forwarded to the Little Brownie Bakers of Louisville, Kentucky, will run about the same even though the price has gone up 25 cents per box, to $1.50. Piling up in area warehouses, for distribution beginning this weekend, are 1,452,000 boxes of cookies, of which more than a million already are bespoke.
(If you managed to be out of the house when the girls were taking orders you're still not out of the woods.After delivering to the people who signed up in advance, the Scouts will have extras to take around. If you don't answer the door, they'll catch you at the shopping center.)
So. If umpteen thousand local Girl Scouts are going to sell us 1,452,000 boxes of cookies at $1.50 a throw, that's $2,178,000 and somebody's getting rich, right? Well, not exactly; there are not as many fingers in the cookie jar as one might expect in this day and age. The troop gets 25 cents per box, the National Capital Girl Scout Council gets 65 cents, and Little Brownie Bakers gets 54 cents. The remaining six cents goes for handling, and, in Virginia, sales tax; the District and Maryland exempt the cookies. Nationally, the sales amounted to almost $34 million last year, with more than 1,250,000 girls and countless parents participating.
The Scouts get 60 per cent of the money paid, which is a better yield than many a respectable charity can claim for fund-raising drives. All of the Scouts' share stays in the area; the national organization gets its funds from dues. Cookie sales yield more than a third of the income of the 346 councils, and the percentage is increasing.
You, of course, get the warm feeling that comes from being nice to a Girl Scout, plus one or more boxes of cookies. What about those cookies? Are they any good?
This year's cookies fared rather badly in a tasting by a Weekend panel. None was rated higher than a 2.8 average on a scale of 0 to 5, although the opinions of individual tasters varied wildly. Some felt so strongly about certain cookies that they rated them off the scale from below awful to above perfect. (For a fuller account, see below.)
Phil Carroll of Richmond has no qualms about the quality of the cookies. Carroll is a representative of Little Brownie Bakers, which is a division of Mother's Cookie Co., which is a subsidiary of Beatrice Foods Corp. One gets the impression that every one but God likes Phil Carroll. God in recent weeks has sent him: a dog bite bad enough to put him in the hospital; a broken arm; the loss of his diamond ring; and an operation that will eventually make it possible for him to sit down again.
This week things began to look up again for him. Ten days after he missed the ring, Carroll returned to the Washington hotel wheree he thought he might have lost it in our first big snow and found it, undamaged, in the dirveway where it had lain beneath three big snows and a zillion taxicabs. And then there are all those cases of bespoke cookies piling up in the warehouse.
"Those are good cookies," Carroll said. "I've been in the business 22 years and I know about cookies. What you've got there is a whole line of eight kinds of cookies and none of them has a single preservative in it.
"Now, you have to have shelf-life in any food product, and we've got the same shelf-life of what's in the supermarket with preservatives: six to nine months. To get that kind of shelf-life you have to go up in grade with your raw materials, which is what we've done. We have the secondbiggest share of the Girl Scout cookie market, 22 million packages out of a total of about 94 million. We are the only supplier that uses no preservatives in our whole line. Also, all our cookies are kosher."
The giant of the GS cookie biz, and the only one of seven franchisees that markets them nationwide, is the Burry Cookie Co. of Elizabeth, New Jersey, a division of the Quaker Oats Co. Carroll estimated Burry's sales as 30 million-plus boxes; at Burry, Craig Wanggaard would not confirm the figure, saying, "Does Macy's tell Gimbels?"
When Little Brownie got into GS cookies five years ago. It hared Carroll and others away from companies long established in it.
National Scout spokesman Richard Knoxtook gentlemanly umbrage at the suggestion that the cookies ain't what they used to be, "I don't think the criticisms are valid," he said. "Our quality standards are very high, and we taste-test samples throughout the production runs. Individual cookies vary in popularity, but they're all good."
Little Browine so dominates the Eastern market that any Girl Scout from Maine to Florida -- except in North Carolina and Georgia -- is odds-on to be carryuing his product, Carrloll said. Burry's Wanggaard suggested that this was hyperbole: "They've got a lot of the biggies, it's true," he said, "but we have, for instance, Philadelphia," where the first commercial GS cookie drive drive sold 114,000 boxes in 1934.
To get a franchise, a company's formula must meet nutuition standards and its product must pass a tasting panel. Then, having won the privilege of using the Girl Scout symbol, the franchisees may bid for the business of the individual GS councils.
"We contract to deliver a given number of boxes at a given price. The final selling price and the division of the profits is up to the individual Scout councils." Most councils held the price to $1.25 this year, according to GS spokesman Knox, but then everything costs more in Washington, right?
The Scouts require franchisees to produce four types of cookies: the traditional trefoil, a cream sandwich, a mint and, new this year, an all-natural granola. Other types are optional bvut must be approved; if you move to the West Coast, you take your chances.
What has Little Brownie Bakery in store for us this year? Carroll's descriptions:
TREFOLS -- "An old-fashioned shortbread cookie made with butter and eggs and shortening according to an old recipe from... back before the price of everything went up and everybody started cutting corners."
GRANOLA -- "An all-natural cookie, toasted rolled oats in molasses and unbleached flour with sesame seed, wheat germ and dark brown sugar."
VAN'CHOS -- "Vanilla and chocolate cream-filled cookies, standard but high quality. Some of the companies have dropped the chocolate ones because they say nobody wants them, which is ridiculous; you know how Oreos sell. The real reason is that the price of chocolate has gone out of sight. Priced a Hershey bar lately? But we stuck with both kinds [boxed together] because we want to stay in the Girl Scout cookie business; and if we disappoint customers this year, they're not goint to buy next year."
SAMOAS -- "A real thin base cake [industry juargon for your basic cookie] covered with caramel and toasted coconut, with the top striped and the bottom covered completely with chocolate."
TAGALONGS -- "Avanilla base cake covered with peanut butter and then enrolled [covered top and bottom] with chocolate; we tried to make it like a Reese's peanut-butter cup only with a cookie inkside."
DO-SI-DOS -- "A peanut-butter sandwich cookie, a crunchy oatmeal cookie with a peanut-butter filling. It has two base cakes like a cream cookie; we run them down the line, a tube squirts peanut butter on one and then the other is flipped on top of it."
THIN MINTS -- "We're really proud of this one, it's the top seller, maybe 28 to 30 percent. We start with a chocolate cookie -- everybody else uses a vanilla base cake to cut the cost -- and then we completely submerge it in peppermint-flavored chocolate. It's the best value too, in terms of what you get for the money; with chocolate the price it is, we don't get much margin." CAPTION: Illustration1, no caption, ANNIE LUNSFORD; Illustration 2, "CHARISSE, ARE WE TOO SOPHISTICATED TO ORDER SOME GIRL SCOUT COOKIES?" Drawing by Weber; Copyright (c) 1974, The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.