The first Girl Scout cookies were baked as a fundraiser by a Muskogee, Oklahoma troop in 1917. Just a regular home-baked cookie sale, the idea spread to a troop in Connecticut, then Massachusetts. And the rest of the story is history.
Now, Fortune tells us that we buy more Girl Scout Cookies than Oreos.
The reason though might not be what we expect.
This Year’s Cookies
The 2019 Girl Scout cookie season launched on January 2 with a new cookie. Called Caramel Chocolate Chip, this addition to their sweets lineup features “rich caramel, semisweet chocolate chips, and a hint of sea salt ..,” Like all other Girl Scout Cookies, it will be available for a six to eight-week window. Then we have to wait for next year.
How your cookies taste and look depends on where you live. The reason is two different bakers. Each of the 112 Girl Scout regional councils chooses one of the two bakers. That is why a small chunk of Florida has different cookies from the rest of the state:
In most of Florida, S’mores are pretty much a graham cracker sandwich with some frosting and fudge inside. But in Orlando, they have a chocolate coating that envelopes a slim layer of vanilla/marshmallow on a graham cracker.
You can see the difference:
Even with their most popular cookie, thin mints, ABC’s are crunchier while Little Brownie makes them with a smoother chocolate coating.
Again displaying the disparity, Samoas are only in Little Brownie regions. But ABC’s Caramel deLites are actually almost the same:
Our Bottom Line: Diminishing Marginal Utility
At the risk of committing heresy, I would like to suggest that Girl Scout Cookies are really not great (or even very good) cookies. Instead, like McDonald’s McRibs and the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte, Girl Scout Cookie popularity is based their limited availability. As economists, that takes us to diminishing marginal utility.
When we experience diminishing marginal utility, each extra bite of a cookie or slice of pizza is not quite as good as the one before it. We anticipate and love what we at first consume. But then, its “utility” or satisfaction declines.
For Girl Scout Cookies, diminishing marginal utility is a dual phenomenon. Yes, the fifth cookie is less of a delight than the first one. But also, having limited availability is a version of diminishing marginal utility. If sales extended indefinitely, then we would not feel the excitement or anticipation about the arrival of the first box.
So why are Thin Mints popular? Because they disappear before diminishing marginal utility sets in.
My sources and more: A talk in school today reminded me it was time to return to Girl Scout Cookies. Vox had a good overall “explainer” history while wideopeneats had the LA Times images. The Girl Scouts describe their cookies here.