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Girl Scouts go digital

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Variety of Girl Scout cookies. Sarah Hansen / RiverTown Multimedia3 / 6
Variety of Girl Scout cookies. Sarah Hansen / RiverTown Multimedia4 / 6
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Variety of Girl Scout cookies. Sarah Hansen / RiverTown Multimedia6 / 6

The Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. have helped girls develop the confidence and skills to become entrepreneuring, independent young women for over 100 years. Each summer the youngest set, called Brownies, develops friendships and plants gardens while the older scouts go camping, conduct science experiments and volunteer.

More visibly, this time of year all scouts are involved in cookie sales. You'll find scouts at the local grocery store, coffee shop or Walmart with a mouthwatering display. These cookie sales help support the troupe financially and makes their activities possible. This year, for the first time nationally, scouts are selling digitally, too.

The regional council, the Girl Scouts of Minnesota and Wisconsin River Valleys, helped pilot online sales several years ago exclusively relying on senior and ambassador scouts to test that market. Many bugs have been worked out since then, said Tammy Freese, product sales manager for GSRV. Online sales, she added, are still far below door-to-door and store sales but are gaining in popularity.

One reason scout supporters are going online is to buy cookies for charity. Through scout programs like "Cookies for the Community" or "Troop to Troop" buyers can support their favorite scout by making a cookie purchase that then gets shipped to military service members for care packages or to community food shelves, the Ronald McDonald House, police and firefighters and other groups that fit with the Girl Scouts mission.

"If you're watching your waistline, it gives customers the option to support the girls yet," said Freese.

Each year for the past three years, GSRV's cookie donations have been increasing, and Freese hopes that the online option will help develop that trend. So far, the GSRV Council has sold 30,000 packages of cookies via online sales.

Tabitha Snader, age 10, said she's been involved with cookie sales her whole life. She helped her older sister sell cookies when she wasn't yet old enough to become a Brownie. When Snader joined herself, she said the scouts helped her overcome some shyness and that cookie sales in particular have helped her find her voice.

Store sales continue to be the most profitable market for Snader, and on a good day she'll sell 70 boxes. She said door-to-door can work best for younger kids.

Freese came up through the Girl Scouts as a child and got her daughter involved as well. Now that she's working for the scouts, specifically in cookies, one of the biggest developments she's seen in her lifetime has been direct sales. Introduced in 2011, direct sales meant scouts could sell cookies directly, instead of taking orders to be filled later on.

"Sales increased," Freese said. "When presented with the cookies in front of them, we sell more cookies, and it's just been growing in popularity since then."

Last year GSRV sold 4.45 million boxes of cookies total, primarily through direct sales. And about 50 percent of each box sale goes directly back to Girl Scout programs.

"Girl Scouts is more than just cookies," Freese said. "There's great Girl Scouts programs in science, technology, math, arts, technology — so much for girls to offer.

"Even though the Girl Scout cookies are part of pop culture and make us very famous, make sure you check out what else Girl Scouts has to offer because it just might surprise you!"

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