Boy Scouts in the metropolitan area may have found the answer to chronic money shortages and the Girl Scout cookie: gourmet popcorn.
Starting Nov. 16, they will be going from door to door hawking three-pound buckets of unpopped popcorn at $4 a pop, in the hope of raising $150,000 for Boy Scout troops and Cub Scout packs in Maryland, the District and Virginia.
"This is the Boy Scout answer to Girl Scout cookies," said Dennis R. Hanson, volunteer popcorn chairman for the National Capital Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America.
Officials of the Girl Scouts Council of the Nation's Capital, the group's metropolitan area chapter, are not alarmed by their male counterparts' inroad into the door-to-door sales market.
"No, I'm not aware of it," said Girl Scouts product sales spokeswoman Mary Ellen Downes about the popcorn plan.
It is too early to say whether the white plastic buckets with the blue, gold and black emblem proclaiming "Trail's End Gourmet Popcorn" will do for the Boy Scouts what cookies have done for the Girl Scouts, but local scouting officials are optimistic about the popcorn fund raiser's second year.
The council, whose headquarters are in Bethesda, was the national top seller of popcorn last year, said a spokesman for the popcorn supplier.
"We thought it went well last year. The goal was doubled because we needed to have money," said the council's finance director, Joseph Dubee. The council's budget should just about break even if the popcorn campaign reaches its goal, he added.
The National Capital Area Council, made up of 12 districts stretching from Frederick, Md., to Caroline County, Va., is one of about 220 councils that will peddle popcorn across the country.
Metropolitan area scouts will get $2 for each bucket. Last year's fall campaign netted the local scouts $72,000, a result of selling almost 36,000 buckets of the stuff, Dubee said.
The scout's supplier, the Weaver Popcorn Co. in Indiana, sells about 20 percent of the world's popcorn harvest, making it the largest popcorn concern in the world, say company officials.
Two years ago, Weaver mounted an ambitious campaign to get all Boy Scouts councils to sell gourmet popcorn by sending company representatives to each council, Dubee said. Each council, however, decides how to run its fund raisers, the result being that only about half of all Boy Scout councils in the nation sell popcorn.
Local Boy Scout troops and Cub Scout packs plan to use the money raised to pay for camping trips and equipment, summer camp, and arts and crafts programs. The council will use part of the money to print scouting literature and recruiting pamphlets, Dubee said.
So what exactly is gourmet popcorn?
"We select the premium end of our hybrid popcorns," said Weaver Popcorn Co.'s Philip Van Leeuwen. The kernels explode to be a bit larger than the average grade of popcorn and very few are left unpopped in the pot, he said.
Last year, area Girl Scouts sold 1,725,000 boxes of cookies to raise over $600,000 dollars for the council. Each box of cookies, which sells for $2.25, yields the Girl Scouts 36 cents. The money provides 65 percent of the council's operating budget, said Downes.
Students sell so many products that one more would not make a difference, Downes said, although the Boy Scouts tend to be real hustlers, she noted.
"As long as its coordinated and there's not too much overlap, it won't affect us," Downes said.
But come January, among the chocolate, caramel and cococut Samoas and the time-tested Thin Mints, a new Girl Scout cookie will be tempting the charity-minded and the weak willed: the Pecan Shortee.
"And it is delicious," Downes said.