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A Tale of Chocolate Addiction and its Tiny Peddlers

Posted by Failed Success on 04/20/06 at 11:48 AM

Thin MintA brief look at the history and technology behind the nifty narcotic that is the Girl Scout Thin Mint

Every year, an army of girls clad in green sweep the nation bringing hope and fulfillment to the millions of cocoa junkies in search of their next fix.

For many girls, selling Girl Scout cookies is a right of passage; a tradition that has existed for decades. For the millions of consumers, it’s also a right of passage; devouring the sweet treats with wanton disregard for any possible risks to their figure.

The Girl Scout Cookie is a brand name in and of itself, and has taken on a life of its own in American culture. The “Girl Scout” brand of cookie is among the top selling cookie brands in America. From Thin Mints, to Caramel De-Lites(Samoas) and Peanut Butter Patties(Do-Si-Dos); consumers have the opportunity to pick their poison. However, out of all of the Girl Scout Cookie offerings, the bestseller and national favorite is the Thin Mint.

How it all Began

Old Girl Scout Cookie BoxThe Girl Scouts first began baking cookies for fundraising purposes in 1917 five years after Juliette Gordon Low started Girl Scouting in the United States. They realized that the sale of these sweet treats were a perfect way for the local troops to raise money.

In July 1922, The American Girl magazine, published by Girl Scout national headquarters, featured an article by Florence E. Neil, a local director in Chicago, Illinois. Miss Neil provided a cookie recipe that was given to the council’s 2,000 Girl Scouts. She estimated the approximate cost of ingredients for six- to seven-dozen cookies to be 26 to 36 cents. The cookies, she suggested, could be sold by troops for 25 or 30 cents per dozen.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Girl Scouts in different parts of the country continued to bake their own simple sugar cookies with their mothers. These cookies were packaged in wax paper bags, sealed with a sticker, and sold door to door for 25 to 35 cents per dozen.

The Girl Scouts continued baking and selling cookies themselves throughout the 20’s and early 30’s until they chose to license commercial bakers to handle the baking for them in 1936. ABC Bakers, a division of Interbake Foods, Inc., became the “Official Girl Scout Cookie Baker” in 1939, and continues today as one of the two licensed bakers of Girl Scout Cookies (the other being Little Brownie Bakers). Each troop has the ability to decide from which bakery they want to receive their supply of cookies.

The Rise of a Confectionary Giant

Thin MintsIn 1951, the Girl Scouts added the Chocolate Mint (Now known as the Thin Mint) to the cookie lineup, along with the Sandwich and Shortbread varieties. The “Thin Mint” consists of a crispy cookie wafer covered in dark chocolate with a blast of pure peppermint oil. Baked together in just the right proportions, it becomes the object of many cookie addicts’ obsession. It wasn’t long before the Thin Mint became the hands down favorite amongst Girl Scout Cookie buyers, and rose quickly to the top of the best seller list.

Today, all current and potential licensed bakers of Girl Scout Cookies are required to produce the Thin Mint as part of the licensing agreement. Of the 225 million Girl Scout Cookies sold each year, Thin Mints account for over 25% of those. Due to the sheer volume at which these magnificent morsels are consumed, Bakers of the Thin Mint really have to put the factories into full gear.

Here’s a glimpse into a day in the life of Elfriede Cortizo, ABC Bakers Girl Scout’s Thin Mint Production Supervisor (from the ABC Bakers Official Site):

A typical workday for Elfriede begins at about 5:00 a.m. when she arrives at the 2-million square-foot bakery in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Responsible for producing 4,400 cases of Thin Mints per eight-hour shift (that’s about 4,000 cookies per minute!), Elfriede is constantly on the move throughout the plant, managing the people, equipment, and processes that transform ingredients such as flour, sugar and cocoa powder into one of America’s best-loved cookies.

Elfriede, a self-described perfectionist, is serious about her responsibility for supervising the bakery’s quality assurance team. From hourly ingredient inspections to ensuring adherence to Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP’s) to checks on the metal detectors that are used before and after packaging, Elfriede diligently maintains the highest standards to ensure that Thin Mints are the very best. Driven by pride and her sharp attention to detail, she says, “I always make sure there’s the right amount of peppermint oil in each batch. Girl Scouts sell these cookies. I want to make sure they’re perfect.”

Elfriede has an energetic spring in her step and she is seldom without a radiant, infectious smile. She is the picture of a happy, confident, successful woman. However, when she and her husband arrived in America from Germany in 1959, she couldn’t speak a word of English. Today, she communicates easily in her second language as she answers questions and gives directions to her team members. She is not only fluent in English, but in the language of manufacturing as well.

ShippingIt takes approximately 7-8 minutes to complete each batch of the cookies on the high tech machinery in use at the two licensed bakers of Girl Scout Thin Mints. Each of the remarkable cookie ovens used to create these bits of sugary goodness are between 200 ft. and 300 ft. long.

The cookies wind around on conveyors for about twice the length of the oven while they gradually cool down. Some cookies go through cooling tunnels to help them “set up” before they are packaged. After cooling, the cookies are channeled (lined up), stacked and portioned by weight or count into various types of packaging.

The majority of packaging is done by machine. During peak production, approximately 5,000 pounds of chocolate, and 230,000 pounds of sugar are used everyday between the two licensed bakers to create a daily output of roughly 25,000 cases of Thin Mints.

Pitched Competition and Guerilla Tactics

So with all of these cookies in production, and a past history of over 200 million boxes being sold a year; it’s up to the Girl Scouts of today and tomorrow to continue pushing the goods. Each year the competition becomes increasingly fierce as the girls, along with their parents, get into the business of cookies.

Girl ScoutsWithout a doubt, no other industry can match the sheer power of the Girl Scout’s marketing and sales techniques. Presidents of Marketing everywhere take note, guerilla marketing and the art of the ambush, combined with cute little peddlers equates to big profits.

At $4 a box, Girl Scout cookies are a hardly a value buy. But, obviously, they are not meant to compete with other cookie manufacturers. They are a fundraiser, designed to raise money to support an organization. So armed with the knowledge that what they are doing is good for their organization and the young girls of today and tomorrow, they take their wares to the streets and businesses of America.

An innocent grocery shopper stops by the local grocery store to pick up some milk, a legion of green clad salesman guard the entrance. “Oh you just stopped in real quick to pick up a gallon of milk; well you know what goes best with that milk don’t you?” You may be able to slip past them at the front door with your eyes averted and head down while they are distracted by another customer. But remember, you also have to leave the grocery store as well. Maybe the store has a back exit.

Whether you are trying to avoid the little salespeople because a different troop already ambushed you at your home, or you are desperately trying to protect yourself from anything that could add to that every increasing gut; chances are you will walk away from the store a proud owner of at least one more box of Thin Mints.

But whether it is guilt that drives the sale, or the simple fact that you just cannot get enough of this Chocolate covered Crack; you are happy knowing that your money is helping to fund an organization dedicated to empowering and building character in girls all over the nation. Besides, when you are home and you find yourself hungry for a snack, nothing is as comforting as opening the freezer and finding dozens of those delightful dark chocolate mints arranged in neat little rolls.

Further Reading:

- The Official Girl Scouts of the USA Site
- ABC Bakers Girl Scout Cookie Official Site
- Little Brownie Bakers Girl Scout Cookie Official Site
- Girl Scouts Cookies on Wikipedia.org

A Chocolate Covered Conspiracy

There has been a bit of an uproar regarding the Trans fat content of Girl Scout Cookies. Trans fats have been classified as “Bad” and customers have been pushing to have the trans fat removed from their favorite snack. Currently, one of the bakers provides the cookies with no trans fat, while the other has 1g of trans fat per serving. Most people believe that both versions of the cookie taste pretty much identical. You can read more about this situation at the following links:

- Deconstructing the Girl Scout Cookie on 60 minutes
- Controversy could crumble the sales of Girl Scout Cookies

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  1. BTW Peanut Butter Patties are TAGALONGS NOT DO-SI-DOS!!!! Do-si-Dos are now called Peanut Butter Sandwichs. please fix it. Also the reason that some are one name and others are not depends on the Bakery that that counsil uses. Just so you know. And if you don’t believe me, then tell that to my blisters that I got standing on a street corner for 4 hours a weekend for 3 weeks selling those DAMN ADDCTIVE COOKIES!!
    But I’m not bitter, no!
    ~Bitter Girl Scout Cookie
    PS: No, we are NOT just the sweetest little things you’ve ever seen!!!

    Posted by BitterGirlScoutCookie  on  03/14/09  at  10:12 AM