Tuesday, January 16, 2007

It's Girl Scout Cookie Time And It Appears There May Be A Mafia Connection

This just in from Peggy Kreimer, Cincinnati Post staff reporter:

Girl Scouts mean cookies. But not every Girl Scout cookie is created equal.
The Thin Mints you buy from a Girl Scout in Northern Kentucky are not the same Thin Mints you buy from a Scout in Cincinnati.

The box looks the same. The name is the same. But there are subtle differences in that addictive chocolate wafer coated with dark mint chocolate. In Cincinnati, the wafer is infinitesimally bigger, and slightly scalloped. In Northern Kentucky the crispy wafer is darker and the chocolate has a smoother gloss.

Taste? They're both Thin Mints and if you put the whole cookie in your mouth, there are no telltale crumbs.

The caramel and coconut circles that scouts sell on both sides of the river may have the most noticeable differences. Northern Kentucky scouts sell "Samoas," drizzled with dark chocolate over a more-toasted coconut. Cincinnati scouts sell "Caramel Delites," with milk chocolate drizzles.

The Cincinnati box is bigger but the cookie weight is smaller, seven ounces instead of eight. In Cincinnati, two Caramel Delites weigh 28 grams. In Kentucky, you get just a bit more; two cookies are 31 grams.

Girl Scout cookies sell for $3.50 a box in Northern Kentucky and $3 a box in Cincinnati.

Why the difference?

Two bakery companies make Girl Scout cookies for the whole nation: ABC Bakers in Richmond, Va., a division of Interbake Foods which makes an array of private label cookies and crackers; and Little Brownie Bakers in Louisville, a division of Kellogg's.

In this area, Great Rivers Council in Cincinnati gets its cookies from ABC. Northern Kentucky scouts, in the Licking River Cluster of Girl Scouts Wilderness Road Council use Little Brownie Bakers.

Each council in the country works out its own contract with the baker of its choice and sets its own price for the fund-raising sweets. The majority of the cookie price goes into scouting programs and troop funds. "We look at service, price, research and marketing," said Joy Brock, communications manager of Girl Scouts- Great Rivers Council in Cincinnati.

Taste is not a major deciding factor because the general quality is the same and the few differences are a matter of personal preference, Brock said. "Everybody has their favorites," she said.

And next year, the scouts on either side of the river could end up switching bakers.
Nothing is decided yet, but contracts for both councils expire this year, and a national move to merge councils into larger bodies presents interesting cookie dynamics.

Licking Valley was its own council when it decided to sell the Little Brownie Baker cookies. Now it has merged with the larger Wilderness Road council, which uses ABC Bakers.

Meanwhile, Great Rivers Council is still its own council, but by next year there's a good chance it will have officially merged with three other councils in Ohio, all of which now use Little Brownie Bakers.

With the cookie contracts up this year, the newly merged councils will decide on next year's bakers. "We don't know which bakers we'll have next year," said Tracy Fuchs of the Girl Scouts Wilderness Road Council, Licking Valley Cluster - the Northern Kentucky scouts.

She said some cross-boundary buying happens now. No matter which baker's version a buyer prefers, they can find it in the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky region. "Occasionally we'll have a leader from Cincinnati contact us. They have somebody who wants one of our cookies," Fuchs said.

Call me Mr. Glass-Half Empty, but I've been in retail and I know that when a contract bid is being waved about a couple things happen. There are generally some incentives mentioned to sweeten the deal or perhaps there are cautions bantered about. Who knows? At one time parts of Northern Kentucky were said to be controlled by a certain organization. I'm not sayin' this is happening. I'm jus' sayin'...

Each baker produces their version of the same classic cookies: Thin Mints, shortbread wafers, peanut butter sandwich cookies, caramel and coconut circles, peanut butter patties with a soft dollop of peanut butter on a wafer coated with chocolate, and a shortbread with chocolate icing.

Each baking company also has its own specialties. Exclusives the Northern Kentucky scouts are selling this year include "Café Cookies" which are light gingerbread, and the new sugar free "Little Brownies," a crisp chunky chocolate square.

Exclusive to Cincinnati are "Cartwheels," a reduced fat oatmeal cookie, and "Lemonades," a shortbread with lemon icing.

It is just my personal oppinion, of which I may be wrong, but perhaps Tony Soprano or Joe "Big Cookie" Iacobucci may have a hand, or perhaps a strong arm in this town's cookie commerce

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