Private label continues to surpass long established brands, says managing editor Marina Mayer. AndGirl Scout Cookiesare the next to be cloned.

Back in February, I wrote about Girl Scout Cookies going on a diet. Nope, not the fat-free or lower calorie diet, thankfully. Instead the ultimate American treat now comes with two to four fewer cookies per box, and I took it personally.

Is this portion control or just plain mean?

As painful as it was to accept, I eventually have come to grips with the fact that companies like ABC/Interbake Foods in Richmond, Va., and Little Brownie Bakers in Louisville, Ky., both manufacturers of Girl Scout Cookies, are forced to scale back in some areas, just like the rest of us, to stay afloat.

It was hard, but eating fewer cookies in one sitting may not be a bad thing for my waistline.

However, it seems as though I’m not the only one getting gipped out of the deal. Now, it appears, the actualGirl Scout Cookies are getting ripped off as well, or so it seems.

According to several news reports and mommy blogs, Walmart has been accused of selling cheap knockoffs of the Thin Mints and Tagalong cookies, otherwise known as the organization’s flagship items.

For example, one mommy blogger in particular, CV Harquail, fumed in a 972-word post on her Web site, Authentic Organizations, about how the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer’s actions are despicable, harmful to young women and damaging to the value and image of whatGirl Scout Cookiesrepresent. In fact, the self-described “cookie mom” quietly blames Walmart for trying to putGirl Scout Cookiesout of business.

Initially I was disheartened by this matter, simply because it directly correlates with my youth. Up until now,Girl Scout Cookieswere only sold by Brownie and Girl Scout troops and were never duplicated or distributed outside of the organization.

On the other hand, today’s economical downfalls have forced consumers, myself included, to trade in theirGirl Scout Cookies addictions at a lower price point.

For most of us who understand how the politics of food industry plays out, these lower-priced versions, or knockoffs as Harquail describes them, are really private label brands.

Enter Walmart.

The cloned cookies are part of the retailer’s new line ofGreat Valueproducts, according to its Web site, along with copycat versions of other American namesakes such asNilla Wafers,Fritos,Ritz, among others.

Although I’m not sure about Harquail’s blog, which provides some statistics but doesn’t include any sources to back up her “feelings,” the reality is that private label has become the go-to alternative for many consumers, and retailers are jumping on the bandwagon to take advantage of this growing opportunity.

In fact, a recent study conducted by Chicago-based Mintel shows that nearly 1,800 new U.S. private label products appeared on grocery store shelves from the beginning of the year through July, which represents 27% of all food products introduced this year. Not too shabby when compared to a 2005 study that showed private label foods comprised of only 13% of new product launches.

That being said, I think it’s fine that Walmart stepped into the ring and presented a private label option for usGirl Scout Cookies lovers.

Yes, Girl Scouts represent more than just cookies. According to their Web site, they’re about building leadership, strong values, social conscious and conviction. However, theGirl Scouts Cookies are simply just a vehicle for the group to make money.

Take a chill pill, Ms. Harquail.

Girl Scout Cookiesonly sell four months out of the year so it’s nice to know that I can get my Tagalong fix during the remainder of the year.

CLICK HEREto read my previous article onGirl Scout Cookies.

Marina Mayer, managing editor