December 8, 1996 in Nation/World

Cookie Price War Makes Girl Scouts Feel Crummy

Curtis Morgan Knight-Ridder

The annual sale of Girl Scout cookies has always been an intense competition. Girls race to hit the softest touches in neighborhoods, parents guard prime turf to hit up office colleagues, troops stake out the busiest storefronts.

This time, it shapes up as something bigger - a border skirmish between counties. In Broward County, Thin Mints or any of eight other varieties will cost $2.50 a box. In Dade, and every other county in Florida, they’ll go for 50 cents more - $3.

The Broward Girl Scout Council’s top executive denies any intention to outflank southern counterparts in a price war, but some parents, particularly in North Dade, fear the cut-rate cookies may cost them sales and, ultimately, also cost their kids.

Lori Jo Freiwald, a troop leader in Palm Springs North near the county line, has heard grumbling. “I’ve already had some of my big sellers from last year tell me, ‘Don’t expect it from me this year.”’

For those outside scouting, the annual event simply provides another reason to worry about the waistline or to engage in the contentious national Thin Mint vs. Samoa debate. For Girl Scouts, it’s serious business.

Councils typically depend on cookies for about half their annual budgets and individual troops and Scouts use proceeds to pay for camping trips and other activities.

Leaders in both counties agree the price difference will baffle some buyers when street sales start in January.

“I’d be less than honest if I didn’t say that for the troops neighboring the border, and for the public, there might be a little difficulty,” says Sally Ann Boggess, assistant executive director of the Girl Scout Council of Tropical Florida, which oversees Dade and Monroe counties.

What most people don’t understand is that councils operate independently, running programs and facilities like campgrounds. Each negotiates its own deal with one of two national bakeries and sets its own prices depending on needs.

Nationally, says Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. spokeswoman Judy Welage, cookies range from $2.25 to $3, averaging $2.70. In Florida, other councils were already charging $3 and Dade decided to up prices from $2.50, says Boggess. “When we made the decisions, we didn’t know what Broward was going to do.”

Since Hurricane Andrew, the Tropical Council, which runs three campgrounds and two homes, has been hit with rising costs and shrinking sales. Pre-Andrew, sales hovered around 50,000 cases. Last year, it was 38,000. It also serves Dade’s more challenging urban population with large pockets of poverty where members often need financial help.

Some Dade parents worry the biggest impact could be on less affluent North Dade troops, where cookie sales often represent the sole source of income.

Broward’s council decided to stay at $2.50 mainly because it could afford to and felt it was a nice gesture to the community, says Jeannette Archer-Smith, executive director of the Girl Scout Council of Broward County. “We seriously debated going to a higher price but we held off one more year.”

Broward’s council, which runs two campgrounds and is building a new headquarters, did discuss potential impacts on Dade but believed they’d be minimal at the most, she says. “I doubt we can sell more cookies than we already do” - 672,000 boxes last year.

Both councils stress they are friendly and the cookie sale isn’t really a competition but a fund-raiser that also teaches girls important interpersonal and financial skills.

But, clearly, competition does exist. In Dade, Scouts can earn Cookie Bucks to spend on Scout gear. In Broward, there are patches. And the more they sell, the more outings troops take. Once it heard Broward was sticking at $2.50, Boggess says Dade’s council did move up its official street sales start a week, to Jan. 9, to offset the Broward price.

Dade also already allows pre-sales, which started this week. That means Scouts - and more importantly, parents in offices, can take early orders. Broward, where sales begin on Jan. 17, doesn’t do that, a subject of some grumbling from parents there.

“If anything, they should have an advantage because nobody knows we’re selling at $2.50 yet,” says Archer-Smith.

Some Scout leaders do believe most people who buy cookies aren’t shopping for price.

“I would hope that people buying cookies were doing it to support Scouts,” says Bekky Leonard, a Miami Shores leader. “I know you can buy cookies in a store a whole lot cheaper.”

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