"Zero trans fat" in cookies does not mean no trans fat. Health concerns are putting a dent in food sales for fundraising.
The Wall Street Journal (Kelly Crow) reports from the front lines of the Girl Scout cookie season with the disconcerting news that many of the "zero trans fat" cookies being sold this year actually contain trans fats (the story is subscription only, sorry).
The "Thin Mints" label to the right confirms the presence of partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. It's just that under government labeling regulations, less than a half gram of trans fat can be rounded down to "zero trans fat" on the nutrition label. I suppose this teaches girls a number of lessons, most notably the need to read the entire nutrition label and to be skeptical of claims regarding the healthfulness of foods.
The Girl Scouts expect to sell roughly 200 million boxes of cookies, about $700 million at prevailing prices, of which 70% or $490 million stays with the troops. But overall the concerns about childhood obesity have put a cloud over the sales of food for fund raising. The Association of Fund-Raising Distributors and Suppliers, a 501(c)(6) business association, reports that sales of its 600-plus members were down 11% last year. Sales are a bit under $4 billion a year, with a yield of about 46% or $1.7 billion. (Compare that to the $260 billion of overall charitable giving.)
If you back out the Girl Scout cookies, where the yield is 70% to the troop, other product sales yield about 40% to the charity. This shows the difference that a large nonprofit group can achieve through negotiation.
Back in 2002, the AFRDS reported the top selling fundraising products in order as follows: candies and confections, magazine subscriptions, frozen entrees, cheese and meat products, decorative novelties and gift wrap. The most recent press release no longer provides the ranking.
And it is not too surprising that AFRDS comes down opposed to restrictions on school candy sales for fundraising, contending that the sales are made mostly to adults after school hours. Limits on candy sales will just cut funding for education, they claim.
Another lesson here is one of the risks of social enterprise that receives scant attention. When a charity engages in a commercial-type venture to raise money, it runs a risk of entangling the organization in the public relations and public policy issues that arise with that business. It can lead to conflicts of interest and the potential for putting the organization in an unfavorable light.