(CNN) — For decades, Girl Scouts have used cookie sales to raise funds and teach scouts about entrepreneurship. This year, thanks to the Raspberry Rally cookie, members got a painful lesson in what can happen when high demand meets limited supply.
The much-hyped Rally, a raspberry-flavored spin on the Thin Mint, was always supposed to be a limited-edition cookie. But interest in it seemed to have taken Girl Scouts leadership by surprise — perhaps because of a new online-only ordering system.
As demand surged, with some cookies even ending up on eBay, in some cases listed for about $40 per box, supply stayed the same because cookie makers couldn't quickly pump out more Rallies. One of the Scouts' manufacturers, ABC Bakers, said it needs lots of lead time to make limited-edition cookies. The other, Little Brownie Bakers, said bad weather caused power outages at a Kentucky plant, contributing to other inventory issues that lead to tight supply.
As a result, the Rallies sold out rapidly, leaving scouts and parents to explain the situation to annoyed shoppers even as they tried to make sense of it themselves.
For young scouts, having to tell customers there are no Rallies available "is a particularly frustrating transaction," scout parent Betsy Everett told CNN. "When people ask for the new cookie, we tell them the situation and then they don't want to buy anything. It's disappointing for the girls."
Some parents have been frustrated not only by the shortages, but by what they say is piecemeal communication from Girl Scouts USA. And after years of Covid-related disruptions, their own patience is wearing thin.
"Right now we are focused on ensuring all Girl Scouts have a successful Cookie Season," Girl Scouts USA told CNN in a statement, adding that it is also focused on optimizing its operations "in real-time, and [capturing] learnings that will inform our strategy going into future seasons."
But for the scouts, those learnings have been hard-won.
What went wrong
Predicting demand for the Rallies may have been especially difficult, because Girl Scouts introduced a whole new way to buy them, said Terry Esper, associate professor of logistics at the Fisher College of Business of the Ohio State University.
Unlike other cookies, the Raspberry Rally was offered exclusively online with shipments sent directly to customers. That meant shoppers could order it themselves, though Girl Scouts encouraged them to ask scouts to place the orders. Girl Scouts, which has been relatively slow to move sales online, said when it introduced Rallies that the sales channel would help scouts learn about e-commerce. The Rallies aren't supposed to be sold at scouts' cookie booths.
"Whenever you introduce a new way of buying a product, or a new channel to get access ... that opens new [consumer] behavior," Esper explained.
The ease of online ordering may have attracted more customers. Plus, Girl Scouts built a lot of hype with the limited-time offer, creating a sense of urgency, Esper noted.
Yet as customers clamored for the cookie, scouts and their parents learned there was no chance of increasing supply by the end of the cookie season in April.
ABC fulfilled the "seasonal plan that was communicated to councils in June 2022" in regard to the Rallies, says an FAQ dated February 16 on the Girl Scouts Iowa site. "We cannot produce more at this time, as we do not have unique materials and packaging. The lead times ... are too long to produce in time for the remainder of this season," according to the FAQ.
In March, Little Brownie Bakers informed local chapters about the multifaceted issues it was facing.
"We share the frustration that some Girl Scout troops feel this cookie season," a Little Brownie Bakers spokesperson told CNN. "Global supply chain issues, compounded by local labor shortages and a weather-related power outage ... continue to impact production." LBB's problems constrained supply for other cookies, as well.
Better communication needed
Scout parents responsible for ordering the cookies have been left to deal with the fallout, on top of the usual job of helping scouts through the cookie-selling season, which runs roughly from January to April.
Everett, the scout parent, orders cookies for three troops in Southeastern Michigan. She ended up getting a few cases of Raspberry Rallies but other families in her troop could not.
"Out of our 30 scouts [across the troops], about three of them managed to order some cookies before they were gone," she said.
This is just another disruption for Everett, who said part of her initial cookie order went unfilled last year, meaning that cookies were missing from early cookie booths and only showed up weeks later.
Chad Huset, whose two daughters are scouts in the Minneapolis area, watched his daughters field question after question about the unavailable Rallies at a recent cookie-selling event.
Earlier in the season, when his wife placed an order for Rallies, it was promptly canceled. A separate Raspberry Rally FAQ page, posted to a Wisconsin Girl Scouts page, explained "ABC's selling platform did not immediately shut down access to customers ordering [Rallies]...Because of that time lapse, they were selling cookies that were not available."
Huset's wife received a similar explanation following the cancellation in a series of emails. ABC referred CNN's request for comment for this story to Girl Scouts USA.
Huset thinks Girl Scouts should have been clearer about the situation earlier, to allow the troops time to pivot.
"It comes down to communicating what's happening, not after the fact," Huset said.
'Girls learn from that'
Some of the scout community is finding silver linings, however.
Deb Perry, a scout parent and co-leader of a Girl Scouts troop outside of Seattle, didn't even bother to try ordering Raspberry Rallies. The selling season starts earlier in other parts of the country, and she heard the many reports of shortages elsewhere.
"We didn't even push it, or encourage it with our troop," she said. "We just encourage them to sell what we have on hand."
Perry saw the situation as a chance to teach the scouts how to adapt and embrace the challenge. Scouts in her daughter's troop have been encouraging shoppers who ask for the Rally to try the Adventureful, introduced last year, instead.
"When things don't go as planned, or when people say no," she said, "the girls learn from that."
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