Wal-Mart Knocks Off the Girl Scouts

by cv harquail on August 3, 2009

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Just when you think your opinion about Wal-mart might be changing…
Just when you think that maybe, just maybe, Wal-mart was learning to be a better citizen…

Wal-mart turns around and does something really … despicable.

It’s not discriminating against women, strong-arming suppliers, polluting neighborhoods or racing to the bottom of the China Price. No, this time it’s closer to home, and in my case, really close to home. This time…

Wal-Mart is knocking off the Girl Scouts.

img_0744pepOf course, you know the Girl Scouts, those enthusiastic girls organized into local troops, learning about leadership and being resourceful? Those sweet girls raising money selling Thin Mints, Tagalongs, Do-Si-Does and Samoas?

What could Wal-mart possibly do to harm Girl Scouts?

Wal-mart has copied the Girl Scouts’ two best selling cookie types, Thin Mints and Tagalongs.

Wal-mart is selling Fake Girl Scout Cookies.

Wal-mart has fake Girl Scout cookies in ‘beta’ distribution, on their way to a national rollout. Because the cookies are ‘reasonable facsimiles’ of the authentic Girl Scout cookies (I sampled them myself at BlogHer ’09 last week) and are being sold at an everyday low price, these cookies are poised to snatch cookie sales right out of the hands of the Girl Scouts themselves.


Thin Mints Cookies pay for Girl Scouting

Every cookie fan in the US knows that the Girl Scouts in the USA make all of the money to run their organization from their annual cookie sales. You might not know that Thin Mints, the most popular flavor, account for 25% of the Girl Scouts’ sales. Said another way, those Thin Mint cookies account for 25% of the Girl Scouts’ cookie income.

Girl Scout Cookies are a little pricier than your average cookie, but they’re worth it. The Girl Scouts are especially desirable because the cookies are (1) unique and (2) rare.

  • Only the Girl Scouts sell those minty-chocolate-discs-from-heaven known as Thin Mints.
  • The Girl Scouts sell these cookies only for a short time, once each year.

The cookies are so exclusively available, there’s even a website to help you anticipate when you can buy them in your region.200908030223.jpg

The exclusivity of Girl Scout cookies is what makes the cookies really sell. But now, Wal-mart is shoving itself in front of these little girls, and knocking on your door to sell you their almost-as-good fake Thin Mints and Fake Tagalongs, whenever you want them.

There goes the Girl Scouts’ exclusivity. There goes the Girl Scout cookies’ special allure, and there go the profits that fund the Girl Scouts’ programs.

I think it’s interesting that, up until now, no national cookie manufacturer/retailer has seen fit to approximate the Thin Mint or the Tagalong. For whatever reason, they’ve steered clear of the Girl Scouts’ special cookies. But not Wal-mart. [note: As mentioned in comments, there are other thin mint-chocolate wafer cookies on the market. However, no imitation Tagalongs have been spotted. 8.4.09 2:00pm]

The fact that Wal-mart has seen fit to knock off the Girl Scouts and threaten the Girl Scouts’ ability to fund their programs makes me wonder just how much- or how little- Wal-mart really cares about the communities where its stores are located. Am I suggesting that Wal-mart’s brand managers set out to steal the market from the Girl Scouts? No. I’m asking why these Wal-mart managers did not think more about the potential civic impact of their choices.

  • Did anyone at Wal-mart think twice about knocking off the Girl Scouts’ best sellers?
  • Did anyone at Wal-mart think about whether or not it was appropriate to compete against a non-profit, that supports children’s programs?

Personal Disclosure

I take these fake cookies, this threat to the Girl Scouts by Wal-mart, quite personally. For several years, I was the Cookie Mom for my daughters’ troop, teaching the girls how to set goals, budget their time and money, and work together to sell cookies. I’ve seen the girls’ excitement when it’s time to sell, and their pride when they get to deliver the cookies. And, I’ve slept in the damp tent on the camping trips that the cookie proceeds paid for. So yeah, this one really hits home.

Wal-mart can sell all the hunting equipment, cheap plastic gizmos and clothes made in sweatshops that it wants to sell. But why must they encroach upon the market of a non-profit? Why do they have to go after the Girl Scouts?

Authenticity in all directions?

When it comes to assessing whether an organization is authentic, whether it is trying to grow into something more or better, it is important to look at the organization’s actions in that area. We should be looking at Wal-mart’s sustainability efforts and encourage them when these efforts seem to demonstrate that Wal-mart is keeping its promises. But also, we should look at the organization’s behavior around the fringes, because it is this behavior that clues us in to whether Wal-mart’s change effort is real, or whether the change effort is fake.

Funny, the product line of the cookies is called “Great Value.” It begs the question, are Wal-mart’s purportedly improved values any less fake than their pseudoThinMints?

What kind of “Great Value” do these cookies actually represent?

[Follow up: Please note that the Girl Scouts had nothing to do with this post. It is not the Girl Scouts who are “crying wolf” or claiming to be targeted. I, the author, am raising the question of how and to what degree for profit companies like Wal-mart should compete with non-profits in the non-profits’ fundraising arena. Please keep this in mind as you comment. Thanks. 8.05.09]

[ I have closed the comments, because they have reached theoretical saturation. Please read the comments here- it’s likely you’ll find something close to what you’d like to share.]

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