Spokane Journal of Business

Cookie Crunch: Girl Scouts council here sets goal to sell 1 million boxes despite supply-chain disruption

Local council delays shipment with promise of securing more product

  • Print Article

The Girl Scouts of Eastern Washington & Northern Idaho council has been building its annual cookie sales, cresting 1 million boxes of Girl Scout Cookies sold for the first time in 2022 and keeping that goal amid a national cookie shortage.

Brian Newberry, council CEO, says of the 110 Girl Scouts councils in the national Girl Scouts of the United States of America organization, the Girl Scouts of Eastern Washington & Northern Idaho council is one of a handful to delay cookie sales season by two weeks to begin this year’s official cookie season the first week of April.

“We agreed to delay our cookies for two weeks in hopes it would ensure we would get all the cookies we were promised,” says Newberry, whose council has placed an initial order for 1 million boxes of cookies for the 2023 cookie sales season. Thus far, the council has been promised 100% fulfillment of its order by Louisville, Kentucky-based Little Brownie Bakers.

Girl Scouts Cookies are baked and distributed through two suppliers: Little Brownie Bakers and Richmond, Virginia-based ABC Bakers. Little Brownie Bakers owns about 75% of the market share and has been experiencing national supply-chain disruptions since last year.

Newberry says he had hoped that the events that impacted cookie production in 2022, such as ingredient shortages and labor shortages, would be rectified this year. In November, however, Little Brownie Bakers asked some councils across the country to shift back their cookie season so that it could front-load to locations where the cookie season starts earlier.

Newberry says the Louisville bakery has been experiencing equipment and production issues, as well as labor shortages that have made it difficult for the factory to bake around the clock and produce the millions of cookies needed across the country.

The Girl Scouts of Eastern Washington & Northern Idaho has a membership of 3,300 scouts and 2,000 adult volunteers across 65,000 square miles that encompass 19 counties in Eastern and Central Washington and 10 counties in northern Idaho. The council’s membership has increased by 10% within the last year, and its goal is to raise its membership to 5,000 girls by 2026.

The council’s headquarters are located at 1404 N. Ash, in Spokane’s West Central neighborhood, with field offices in Coeur d’Alene and the Tri-Cities, Washington, area.

Proceeds from cookie box sales comprise 70% of the council’s annual revenue, says Newberry. In 2022, revenue was $4.6 million, up from $3.8 million in 2021 and $2.6 million the prior year.

In 2022, the Girl Scouts of Eastern Washington & Northern Idaho averaged 478 boxes of cookies sold per member, up from 472 in 2021, placing the council in the top 10 councils in the country, he says. The national average is about 225 boxes per scout.

Last year, the council sold 1.1 million boxes of cookies, up from years of staying withing the 700,000 to 800,000 range, says Newberry.

“Last year was just a Popeye year,” he says. “We had spinach and got to 1.1 million. We sold our millionth box at a Washington State University (baseball) game in mid-April.”

Newberry says 2020 was a standalone year in which cookie sales went beyond April. As the world went into lockdown and scouts couldn’t go out to sell its cookies, the council had 600,000 unsold boxes of cookies, and Newberry was worried the council would go bankrupt. In May of that year, he made an appeal to his volunteers and scouts to sell through summer.

Troops in some locations such as Seattle have raised the price of cookies to $6 per box, up from $5. However, Newberry says the council here will hold the selling price at $5 for the 2023 cookie season.

Girl Scouts range in age from kindergarteners, known as Daisy’s, up to Ambassadors in the 12th grade.

The organization emphasizes four core elements: entrepreneurship, the outdoors, life skills, and a focus on science, technology, engineering, and math.

In the fall, the council holds financial literacy training to strengthen the girls’ entrepreneurship skills, such as pitching, marketing, and decorating cookie booths.

“For me, the most important thing is for them to set goals,” says Newberry. “Life is about confidence. I want them to have goals.”

Over the last five years, the national organization has released several new badges related to helping girls learn life skills, including a badge for mental health awareness, and badges for democracy and civics. Newberry says he has a lot of scouts interested in civics and has two trips planned to Olympia this year for girls to see democracy at work.

“For me, courage, confidence, and character are all part of those pathways,” he says. “I want girls who graduate to have that badge of confidence and say, you are confident, go do it.”

During the spring and summer breaks from school, the council offers day camp here at its headquarters from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Every week has a different theme. The cost to attend one week of camp is $475. 

For every 900 boxes of cookies sold, a Girl Scout will receive a one-week credit. Newberry says about 400 girls sell enough cookies each year to attend one week of camp.

While some councils in cities such as New York or Chicago have benefited from partnering with technologies like Grubhub Inc., the council here conducts 95% of its sales in person, Newberry says.

“We’re a blue-collar organization. We did Grubhub a few years ago, and it didn’t work,” he says.

Customers here want to see Girl Scouts selling cookies at grocery stores, he contends.

During cookie sales, Girl Scouts also seek donations for American service members deployed overseas through its Troop to Troops-Girl Scout Cookies for the Deployed program. For the program, scouts ask people they sell cookies to if they would like to donate boxes to be sent overseas for military personnel.

In 2022, Girl Scouts of Eastern Washington & Northern Idaho sent 42,000 boxes of cookies to military personnel overseas, up from 35,000 the year prior and 34,000 in 2020.

Newberry says he was the recipient of a box of Thin Mints while deployed in the Middle East during Christmas 2011. He says the gift was meaningful as it reminded him of home. Coincidentally, the care package was from a student at Lewis and Clark High School, in Spokane.

Newberry came to Spokane to command the 92nd Air Refueling Wing at Fairchild Air Force Base in 2012. He retired in 2014 and jumped into a leadership role with Leadership Spokane. In 2018, he was hired as the CEO for the Girl Scouts of Eastern Washington & Northern Idaho.

Newberry is the seventh male CEO ever hired to lead a Girl Scouts council. Having two sons, he says he wanted to connect more with girls and started his own troop of Daisies and Brownies.

“My office is full of stuffed animals,” he says. “I’ve been attacked by glitter and can never get rid of it. There’s more pink and rainbows in my life. Girl Scouts and rainbows go two and two.”

Karina Elias
  • Karina Elias

  • Email Karina Elias
  • Follow RSS feed for Karina Elias

Reporter Karina Elias covers the banking and finance industry. A California native, she attended the University of California at Santa Barbara. Karina loves salsa dancing, traveling, baking, cuddling with her dog, and writing creative fiction and non-fiction.  

Read More

Sign up for our E-mail updates

including the
Morning Edition

Join our list