Well after much Googling, I found two definitive sources that say there are price differences in cookies. I found an article (word document, view as HTML) from the Wall Street Journal that talks about a price war in Michigan between neighbooring councils that had prices at $2.50 and $3.
Girls are told that if customers ask about the price difference, they should explain the economic factors at play — that the Metro council serves four times as many members as its “sister” council, and runs three more camps. Michigan Metro says its troops receive a profit of at least 45 cents on each box sold; in Macomb County, the minimum is 32 cents.
Oh that’s wonderful. Item 9 on this Girl Scout FAQ confirms that prices are set indivdually by over 300 councils.
Such scenarios have been repeated in other parts of the country, as many of the nation’s 330 Girl Scout councils go through their annual pricing debate. Officials say they can’t adopt the simple solution—setting one national price—because their parent organization, Girl Scouts USA, follows the Sherman Act, which prohibits price fixing.
With each council individually incorporated as a nonprofit organization, Girl Scout officials say the law, originally designed to rein in robber barons, could apply to them as well. “In being good citizens, we choose to abide by the spirit of the law,” says Girl Scouts USA spokeswoman Ellen Ach. At a national meeting of council leaders last month in San Diego, Girl Scouts USA officials reiterated their position that prices shouldn’t be discussed among local councils.
So there’s a legal reason for the price differences, but I think it’s highly unlikely that the Girl Scouts of America would be prosecuted under the Sherman Antitrust Act, though personally I think the prices are a bit high. It’s supply and demand, and I think people would buy more at a lower price. They are also outpacing inflation: my simple calculations using the GDP Implicit Price Deflator, which is Greenspan’s favorite measure of inflation, gives me that if a box of Girl Scout cookies was $2.50 in 1996 it should be about $2.80 now, give or take a few cents. There haven’t been any changes in quality I know of, they have a great distribution model, and I don’t see why their costs would have gone up at all to justify that sort of price increase. Just my two dollars and fifty cents…