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Inflation has a new victim: Girl Scout cookies

Girl Scout cookies have risen in price as inflation takes its bite. But it's not all bad news: Customers still seem to be willing to pay up.
Francine Orr
/
Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Girl Scout cookies have risen in price as inflation takes its bite. But it's not all bad news: Customers still seem to be willing to pay up.

Inflation has come for the Do-si-dos cookies.

Many Girl Scout regional councils are raising the price of their popular cookies to help cover rising costs at the two commercial bakeries that make the treats.

That means your favorite box of Samoas that used to sell for $5 will soon cost $6 in many parts of the United States.

"Just like many other products that you see out in the world, our Girl Scout cookies are not immune to a lot of the same rising costs," says Wendy Lou, chief revenue officer for Girl Scouts of the USA.

The increase offers a bittersweet lesson for the young cookie sellers, including Lou's 7-year-old daughter, who's a Brownie in Connecticut.

"That's part of the conversation we'll have this year," says Lou. "It really is a little microcosm of what it's like to run your business and deal with the real pressures — including inflation."

Telling customers is the hard part

Many troops on the West Coast already raised their cookie prices, and it was an adjustment for both the Girl Scouts and their customers.

Ten-year-old Madison Patstone had already memorized the cost of up to 12 boxes of cookies at the old $5-per-box price. Now, she has to multiply by $6 — and carry a lot of $1 bills to make change.

Some cookie lovers are surprised when their Thin Mint purchasing power is thinner than it used to be. A $20 bill that used to buy four boxes of cookies now covers only three — with a couple of bucks left over.

"They're like, 'What?'" Madison says. "That was one of the hard parts: telling people that inflation has come to their nostalgic cookies."

Madison still managed to sell more than 2,400 boxes this year, making her one of the top sellers in San Diego.

Most customers are understanding. This was the first price increase in San Diego since 2015. And while the 20% jump seems large, the price of store-bought cookies has risen 23% in the last two years, according to inflation data compiled by the U.S. Labor Department.

"If they asked about the price increase, we would politely explain, like, unfortunately, due to the inflation going on across the country right now, we've had to up our rates so we can still make a profit and provide these programs for girls," says Ashley Hilliard, a high school sophomore who has been selling Girl Scout cookies for a decade.

The "Tagalong effect"

Proceeds from the cookie sales cover about 70% of the Girl Scouts' budget in San Diego.

Each council sets its own cookie prices, but neighboring councils often move together in what might be called the "Tagalong effect." Girl Scout councils throughout California adopted a standard cookie price of $6 a box this year. They saw little, if any, drop in sales.

"Most of us, if not all of us, had a very successful cookie program," says Carol Dedrich, CEO of Girl Scouts San Diego. "We had the best program since prior to COVID."

Nationwide, Girl Scouts sell about 200 million boxes of cookies annually. That's more than Oreos, even though Girl Scout cookies are on sale for only a few months a year — typically between January and April.

"Low Price" signs are displayed at a grocery store in Los Angeles on Oct. 12. Inflation is gradually moderating, though it continues to impact people across the United States.
Mario Tama / Getty Images
/
Getty Images
"Low Price" signs are displayed at a grocery store in Los Angeles on Oct. 12. Inflation is gradually moderating, though it continues to impact people across the United States.

Marketing expert — and former Girl Scout — Sally Lyons Wyatt doesn't expect the $1 price increase to take much of a bite out of sales.

"Because it isn't just about a cookie, right?" says Lyons Wyatt, executive vice president at Circana, a global market research firm. "Now, granted, if they did something crazy like it's going to cost you 20 bucks for one little package, OK, well then maybe we would find that there's a cliff. But if we're talking a nominal increase in price, I don't think it's going to have an impact on demand."

Madison is already honing her sales pitch for the next cookie season, when she hopes to top her own record by selling 2,500 boxes.

"The season isn't very long," Madison says. "You'll have to wait a whole year to get them again, so might as well just stock up."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.