Bees are the unsung heroes of our food supply. As insect pollinators, bees (honey bees, bumble bees, stingless bees, etc.) help pollinate more than 85% of the world’s flowering plants and one-third of the world’s crops, generating $20B in value to U.S. agriculture. Bees are particularly important to Häagen-Dazs, where they impact 20+ flavors of ice cream through their use in the pollination of blueberries, strawberries, almonds, and other ingredients.
However, the U.S. bumble bee population has declined about 90% since the late 1990s and disappeared from 15 of 28 states. Scientists have identified two main causes for the population decline – habitat erosion driven by climate change and high pesticide usage. Because of changes in the timing of seasons and temperatures, bee species have been facing food scarcity and retreating from their historic geographic ranges to higher elevations.
Recognizing the severity of the problem, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service added bumblebees to the endangered species list in January 2017. This was a stark wake up call for the commercial industries that rely heavily on crops pollinated by bees.
A dwindling bee population directly threatens Häagen-Dazs’ supply chain – fewer bees means fewer nuts, fresh fruits and berries for a scoop of rocky road, vanilla swiss almond or strawberry ice cream. 
Häagen-Dazs first identified challenges for bee populations in 2008, five years before Time magazine featured “A World Without Bees” on its front page. The company established the “Häagen-Dazs Loves Honey” program, focusing its effort on research and education. Since then, it has donated more than $1M, supporting bee research at UC Davis and Penn State, a half-acre bee “friendly” garden for demonstrations, and a Gardner Certification program to educate the public on supporting bee populations.
Having initially focused on research efforts, Häagen-Dazs is now extending its work to supporting interventions on behalf of an almond supplier in California Central Valley. Joining forces with the non-profit environmental organization Xerces Society, in April 2017 Häagen-Dazs unveiled 6.5 miles of “bee-friendly” hedgerow and 11,000 native drought-tolerant shrubs and plants. At 850 acres, it is the largest permanent hedgerow habitat in the US with 12 varieties of plants native to the farm, and serves as a constant, reliable food source for bees and other pollinators.
In the short term, Häagen-Dazs is monitoring the impact of the hedgerow and spreading the mission to its consumers through its website and a virtual reality “bee experience”. The film takes the viewer on a journey from the perspective of a bee; it was selected as a grant recipient for HTC Vive’s VR for Impact Program and is currently available for download at HTC’s app store for virtual reality. In the longer term, Häagen-Dazs has not made any specific commitments but expects to develop more custom bee-habitats on behalf of its suppliers to ensure continued production.
Other Opportunities and Open Questions
Häagen-Dazs can capitalize on the work it has already done by engaging the public and increasing awareness to bring about more sweeping change. Cheerios, for example, launched a campaign called “#BringBacktheBees” to motivate people across America to plant wildflower seeds in their backyards – within one week Cheerios gave away 1.5B seeds. In line with Cheerios’ consumer-oriented approach, Häagen-Dazs can tie their bee efforts directly with the products their consumers buy (e.g. changing the packaging, one seed per pint campaign, etc.). This would not only help elevate their brand, but also activate other advocates for sustainable agriculture.
In the medium term, and in conjunction with other companies facing similar threats, Häagen-Dazs can also work with policymakers to introduce legislation that restricts the use of pesticides near bee-habitats. Alternatively, they can choose to work only with suppliers that use sustainable practices or teach their current suppliers best practices. Finally, Häagen-Dazs should conduct a risk-assessment to determine the longer-term threat in the U.S. and globally, exploring alternative supply sources (e.g. indoor farming).
Going forward, there are several key questions for Häagen-Dazs. Aside from supply chain concerns, a strong motivator behind Häagen-Dazs’ initiatives is good PR; rather than starting with bees, should the Company have focused its efforts on ingredients in ice cream more associated with their product (e.g. dairy products)? Should they take a more public stand against non-sustainable farmers or keep their message exclusively positive? Lastly, is Häagen-Dazs spending enough resources on their current efforts, or is there more opportunity to profitably support bee populations and influence consumer behavior?
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