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Girl Scout Cookies crumble under supply chain woes, labor shortage

March 14, 2023

For some Girl Scouts and their baked goods’ fans, it’s shaping up to be another tough cookie season, reports The Washington Post.

Blame the COVID pandemic for the wildly vacillating supply and demand over the past two years: a surplus of unsold cookies in 2021 and supply chain issues in 2022.

And 2023 looks as if it will not be less problematic. Last month, the Girl Scouts’ hotly anticipated new cookie sold out faster than Beyoncé tickets, and wound up on eBay for four times the price.

Louisville-based Little Brownie Bakers this week blamed the familiar forces of supply chain and labor shortages, with extreme weather thrown into the mix, for production delays that have disrupted this season’s cookie fulfillment efforts. Little Brownie Bakers is one of only two companies licensed to make the cookies—and it bakes for the vast majority of Girl Scout needs.

“We share the frustration that some Girl Scout troops feel this cookie season,” Little Brownie Bakers said in a statement on Thursday, March 9, assuring Girl Scouts and their customers that “the teams in our bakery have been working overtime to make sure troops get their initial orders.”

In an email to The Washington Post on Saturday, a spokesperson for Little Brownie Bakers said that while a host of issues have affected the selling season, the bakery is “on track to fulfill initial orders.”

“Still, LBB has produced more Girl Scout cookies at this time than last year, and our teams at the bakery are working hard to ensure initial orders are filled,” the spokesperson said.

Leadership for the Teamsters Local 783, which represents an array of jobs at the facility—including bakers, mixers, forklift drivers, caramel mixers, and mechanics—did not respond to requests for comment Saturday.

Across the United States, Girl Scout councils—the broader geographic body that comprises local troops—contract with Little Brownie Bakers or ABC Bakers, the only two facilities licensed to make the cookies. According to CNBC, Little Brownie Bakers supplies 75% of all local troops, which have struggled this season to meet sales goals amid the delays.

Annual revenue from the cookie program is a key funding source for local councils, which take the larger share of the sales; and for the individual troops, which use the proceeds to pay for activities, travel and other supplies.

“We know this was another unexpected setback to councils supplied by Little Brownie Bakers during an already challenging cookie season,” Girl Scouts USA said in a statement addressing the delays. The national organization pledged to “soften the impact of these ongoing issues” but did not immediately respond Saturday when asked to elaborate.

As the 2023 cookie season winds down, it’s unclear how the Girl Scouts might mitigate the persistent supply issues—but they aren’t alone in facing these challenges or scrambling for answers, said Jonathon Swart, who manages perishable food transportation strategies for BlueGrace Logistics.

The interconnectedness of the food supply chain means it can be easily shaken by local or global disruptions, ranging from extreme weather in Kentucky, which shuts downs ground transit; to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has hindered two of the world’s biggest grain exporters, Swart said.

“When you’re a manufacturer used to being able to source ingredients with consistency, even a three-week delay can totally throw off the schedule of these facilities that are running 24-hour production,” Swart said.

The Girl Scouts, which lack a diverse manufacturing base, face even more limited options. “Maybe they bring in another supplier, another bakery that could help them be more diverse,” Swart said of the production side. “But this is a problem faced across all food manufacturing over the past several years.”

Research contact: @washingtonpost