Tastes Like Home? A Nation Divided…By Girl Scout Cookies

By Erin Delany ’20

February is coming to a close, which means that Girl Scout cookie season is well under way. If you have left your dorm at any point during the last three weeks, you have probably been accosted by some adorable little moppet in a Brownie vest asking you if you would like to support their troop. I personally fell prey to the Scouts’ genius marketing tactic–after all, when a group of eight year-olds in uniform ask you to support their camping endeavors, I find it very hard to say no–and decided to buy a box.

I approached the red wagon that a frazzled-looking parent was helping her Scout troop haul across campus, scanning the assortment of cookies and looking for my favorite Tagalongs, only to find… Peanut Butter Patties? Maybe the Girl Scouts are going through a rebrand. I Venmoed the troop, took my cookies home, cracked open the box, and realized that the chocolate and peanut butter morsels which I had so selflessly purchased were noticeably different from the cookies that I grew up selling and eating as a child in the suburbs of Chicago.

Naturally, I was curious and slightly bewildered, so I Googled the cookies that I purchased, only to discover that the United States is divided in a Girl Scout cookie turf war has been developing right under all of our noses–and it wasn’t until I moved to California that I could see its effects.

There are two bakeries that supply the Girl Scouts of America with cookies every year: ABC Bakers and Little Brownie Bakers. These bakeries, while both licensed to manufacture and distribute cookies for the Girl Scout brand, are free to formulate their own recipes for each type of cookie that the Girl Scouts sell. As a result, while many of the cookies sold by Little Brownie Bakers and ABC Bakers may appear similar at first glance, the taste, texture, and caloric value of each cookie varies drastically between bakers.

In an attempt to place a finger on the subtle differences between physically similar cookies such as Samoas and Caramel deLites, the Los Angeles Times drew up a comparison between the two bakeries and the cookies they manufacture. The Times describes the nuances of flavor between each pair of equivalent cookies, describing the Peanut Butter Patties which ABC Bakers manufactures as having a “vanilla flavor [and a] lighter peanut butter layer,” while Little Brownie Bakers’ Tagalongs have “more layers of peanut butter inside,” creating the flavor distinction which I immediately noticed when I tasted the Peanut Butter Patties that I mistakenly purchased. Even the two factories’ Thin Mints–the only cookies that share the same name between Little Brownie and ABC–have different tastes. According to the Times, ABC Bakers’ Thin Mints are “crunchier, with more mint than chocolate in each bite,” while Little Brownie sells a variety that is “richer, [with a] smoother chocolate coating [and a] distinct peppermint taste.”

These differences, although they may be minute, can have a jarring effect on consumers who buy a box of cookies from one bakery while expecting cookies from the other. Scripps second-year Indigo Olson, who hails from Bellingham, Washington (supplied by Little Brownie Bakers), was disappointed to discover that the Thin Mints which they found in Claremont were vastly different from the cookies to which they are accustomed. They recounted that they could not place exactly what distinguished these particular Thin Mints from the cookies that they remember, quipping that their “taste buds were blinded by rage. But it was gross, I remember that. […] Even if the cookie is objectively good, it’s such a let-down to not have it taste the way you know and love.”

In the divide between Girl Scout cookie manufacturers, Claremont is of particular interest. The territory distribution between ABC Bakers and Little Brownie Bakers is not determined geographically, but by the decision of each autonomous regional Girl Scout council. As a result, two individuals residing in the same state–within a few miles of each other, even–may grow up eating two different types of Girl Scout cookies. This is the case in Southern California, where the Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles is supplied by Little Brownie Bakers, while the Girl Scouts of Orange County source their cookies from ABC Bakers. Although Claremont technically exists within the jurisdiction of the Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles, because of the town’s location, troops who sell cookies within the village are supplied by both Little Brownie and ABC Bakers. With this in mind, an individual with no knowledge of the differences between suppliers is essentially playing a lottery: there is no guarantee that you are purchasing a box of the cookies which you grew up eating.

In some cases, the cookies which the two bakeries produce are not even physically similar. ABC Bakers’ S’mores cookie, a nationwide Girl Scout staple, takes the form of a chocolate-covered graham cookie with a layer of vanilla frosting inside. By contrast, the Little Brownie Bakers’ rendition of the S’mores cookie is an oblong sandwich cookie composed of two graham cookies with a swirl of chocolate and vanilla frosting between them. The stark difference between these two products left Scripps first year Lindsay Marye Canaday, who hails from Wellesley, Massachusetts–supplied by ABC Bakers–sufficiently confunded.

“I am from the East Coast […] where our s’mores have the chocolate on the outside. […]I am very passionate about my Girl Scout cookie preferences, and the ones I bought from a girl in the Village this weekend were honestly disappointing, ” she explained.

Expecting the cookies she received to parallel the cookies she would buy at home, Lindsay was surprised to find that the S’mores she purchased had been manufactured by Little Brownie Bakers. “ I was very confused when the s’mores were the sandwich-type cookies […They are] still great cookies, though,” she justified.

Lindsay is not the only Claremont student who has had a run-in with an unfamiliar selection of Girl Scout cookies this season. Scripps first-year Gavi Silverman, who came to California from Houston–supplied by ABC Bakers–explained that the discovery of other types of Girl Scout cookies has been eye-opening.

“[Growing up] I always ate Peanut Butter Patties, but to be honest I feel a little cheated because I had no idea that there were two kinds [of Girl Scout cookies],” she explained.

After experiencing Girl Scout cookie season in Claremont, Gavi’s opinions regarding her cookie preferences have evolved.

“The bakery with the Samoas is much better,” Gavi said, referring to the classic chocolate, caramel, and coconut cookies which go by the name of Caramel deLites when they are manufactured by ABC Bakers. “The Samoas taste like there is real caramel in them.”

While Gavi’s allegiances have shifted solidly to Little Brownie Bakers, Scripps first-year Gloria Choi’s bakery preferences have always straddled both ABC and Little Brownie. Gloria is from Orange County, California, and while she states that her favorite cookies growing up “were Thin Mints and Caramel DeLites,” there was one cookie that she would cross county lines to obtain. “I’m also a big fan of the Savannah Smiles, but they were only offered in LA County, so I had to find people from LA who would sell them to me,” she explained.

Luckily, now that Gloria is living in Claremont, she has access to the best of both worlds. As for the rest of us, Claremont’s unique location presents the opportunity to either look for our favorite, familiar cookies or to expand our horizons and go for the Peanut Butter Patties instead of the Tagalongs–or vice versa–and see how the other half of the country lives.

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