Raleigh, N.C. — When Beverly Knight bit into her Girl Scout cookies this year, the disappointment was bitter. The peanut butter sandwich was too dry. The shortbread had a funny aftertaste. She didn't immediately complain to the girl who sold her the cookies, but she intended to tell her she wouldn't be buying those again next year.
Girl Scouts across the Southeast have been dealing with customer complaints and boxes of stale cookies as they run their largest annual fundraiser. A switch in bakers has them explaining new names and tastes. And a leaky warehouse roof has tainted some peanut butter cookies sold throughout the Southeast - both patties and sandwiches.
By Friday, most troops had exchanged unsold peanut butter cookies for new boxes to sell at outside tables during the weekend. And they've got cards with a hotline number provided by the baker to give to customers who have already received their peanut butter cookies. The baker is offering an exchange or refund.
Despite the problems, the North Carolina Coastal Pines Council appears to be on track to sell at least as many as the 2.5 million boxes they sold last year, said spokeswoman Katie Hipp.
But parents of scouts are hearing complaints.
Dana Clark, area cookie sales manager for northern Durham, said a lot of people have asked about the changes. "Some people bought the cookies and said they taste differently - of course, because it's a different baker and different ingredients," Clark said.
About half the comments she's heard have been negative. "It takes some getting used to," she said.
Nancy Hanley of Durham sold 40 boxes for her daughter, Nicole, 8. When she tasted her own peanut butter sandwich cookie, it was stale. "Instead of having a nice crunch it was like, 'Ugh! I'd be better off buying cookies from the vending machine,"' she said.
Now she feels she should issue refunds for the boxes, which sell for $3.50 each. The experience has soured her for good.
"I'm not going to be peddling cookies," Hanley said. "That's it."
"You expect really good quality."
Girl Scouts rely on cookie sales to help pay for badges, service projects, camps and even trips to international scouting centers.
Councils nationwide have a choice between two licensed bakers. For more than a decade, Triangle scouts have sold cookies from Little Brownie Bakers in Louisville, Ky., which bakes the Samoas and Tagalongs, among others. In Wilmington and other coastal areas of North Carolina, Girl Scouts have sold Caramel deLites, Peanut Butter Patties and other cookies from ABC Bakers, which has headquarters in Richmond, Va., and a bakery in South Dakota.
Last year the councils merged and the reconstituted council selected a baker by bids. ABC Bakers won.
Some customers haven't tasted a difference.
Emily McMillan, a leader who grew up with Caramel deLites and other ABC Bakers cookies in Alabama, said the switch in bakers wasn't a big deal for customers.