"This is unfortunate, but given this is a girl-driven program and also the majority of cookies are sold on site, it was expected," explained Kelly Parisi, a Girl Scouts spokeswoman.
The impact will probably be felt by local councils and troops, who depend on cookie earnings to fund programming, camps and travel. The Girl Scouts normally sell approximately 200 million boxes each year, roughly $800 million worth.
Parisi stated Girl Scouts of the USA did predict lower earnings this year because of the pandemic, but limitations were constantly altered and the cookie orders placed by 111 neighborhood councils with bakers last fall were still overly optimistic.
Of the 15 million unsold boxes, around 12 million stay with the two bakers -- Kentucky-based Little Brownie Bakers and Indiana-based ABC Bakers. The remaining 3 million have been in the hands of Girl Scout councils, which are scrambling to sell or donate them.
Child labor concerns
The pandemic was one barrier, but there were other reasons for decreasing cookie sales. Some regional leaders said they might have sold biscuits this season but chose not to because of an Associated Press narrative linking child labor to the palm oil that is used to create Girl Scout cookies.
Verdibello said she knows of at least a dozen other troops that opted not to market due to the palm oil dilemma.
Latham said troops inside her area sold 805,000 boxes of cookies last year. This past year, they sold just under 600,000.
This shortfall means the council may not be able to invest in infrastructure improvements in its camps or fill some staff places, Latham said.
Donations to food banks
It's uncertain how much of a financial hit the Girl Scouts suffered because of the decline in earnings since the business won't show these figures.
In the end, local councils won't be held financially responsible for the 12 million boxes held together with the two bakers. Little Brownie Bakers and ABC Bakers said they are working with the Girl Scouts to donate or sell cookies to places like food banks and the military. The bakers can't sell directly to grocers because that might decrease the importance of the yearly cookie sales. But they may sell to institutional buyers like prisons.
Parisi stated bakers and councils have occasionally dealt with surplus inventory before because of weather events like ice storms or tornadoes. But this degree is unprecedented.
"Girl Scout cookie season isn't only when you get to purchase biscuits," she explained. "It is interacting with the girls. It is Americana."