Keeping Bees Buzzing: Häagen-Dazs Ice Cream

How Häagen-Dazs is reviving bee populations to support its suppliers of critical ice cream ingredients

Disappearing Bees

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.[1] 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.[2] Scientists have identified two main causes for the population decline – habitat erosion driven by climate change[3] and high pesticide usage.[4] 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.[5]

Recognizing the severity of the problem, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service added bumblebees to the endangered species list in January 2017.[6] 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. [7]

 

Häagen-Dazs Responds

Häagen-Dazs first identified challenges for bee populations in 2008, five years before Time magazine featured “A World Without Bees” on its front page.[8] 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.[9]

“Bee Garden” on UC Davis Campus

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.[10]

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.[11] 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.[12] 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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[1] “Here’s The Buzz On Häagen-Dazs’ Plan To Protect Honeybees”. 2017. Greenbiz. https://www.greenbiz.com/article/heres-buzz-haagen-dazs-plan-protect-honeybees

[2] “Bombus Affinis (Rusty Patched Bumble Bee)”. 2017. Iucnredlist.Org. http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/44937399/0.

[3] Kerr, J. T., A. Pindar, P. Galpern, et al. Jul 2015. Science. “Climate Change Impacts On Bumblebees Converge Across Continents.”

[4] Baron, Gemma L., Vincent A. A. Jansen, Mark J. F. Brown, and Nigel E. Raine. Aug 2017. Nature. “Pesticide Reduces Bumblebee Colony Initiation And Increases Probability Of Population Extinction.”

[5] “Bumble Bees Being Crushed By Climate Change”. 2017. Science | AAAS. http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2015/07/bumble-bees-being-crushed-climate-change.

[6] Greshkow, Michael. Mar 2017. National Geographic. “First U.S. Bumblebee Officially Listed As Endangered”.  https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/03/bumblebees-endangered-extinction-united-states/.

[7] Apr 2015. “The Haagen-Dazs® Brand Announces Partnership With The Xerces Society For Invertebrate Conservation In New Effort To Help Bees”. Prnewswire.Com. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/the-haagen-dazs-brand-announces-partnership-with-the-xerces-society-for-invertebrate-conservation-in-new-effort-to-help-bees-300068854.html.

[8] Walsh, Bryan. 2013. “The Plight Of The Honeybee”. TIME.Com. http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2149141-6,00.html.

[9] “Häagen-Dazs Loves Honey Bees | Bee Informed Partnership”. 2012. Beeinformed.Org. https://beeinformed.org/2012/03/19/3651/.

[10] Newswire, MultiVu. 2017. “The Häagen-Dazs Brand® Digs Into Sustainable Agriculture, Helps Bees Thrive With Creation Of Pollinator Habitats”. Multivu. https://www.multivu.com/players/English/8075051-haagen-dazs-sustainable-agriculture-bees-pollinator-habitats/.

[11] “Haagen-Dazs Honey Bee Virtual Reality Experience”. 2017. Http://Www.Nestleusa.Com. https://www.nestleusa.com/media/pressreleases/haagen-dazs-virtual-reality-honey-bee-experience-vr-for-impact-program.

[12] Editorial Board. 2017. “A Bumbled Campaign: General Mills Gets Stung For Its Attempt To Save Bees”. Chicagotribune.Com. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/editorials/ct-bees-wildflower-seeds-cheerios-0327-20170323-story.html.

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6 thoughts on “Keeping Bees Buzzing: Häagen-Dazs Ice Cream

  1. Häagen-Dazs’ early response to the disappearance of bees demonstrates how important it is for companies to constantly be monitoring risks to their supply chain. If their goal is ultimately good PR, I agree it seems like they could be doing more to publicize their efforts, perhaps including bees in their labels of sustainably produced items with honey. However, if their goal is to actually save honeybees, it seems as though they should be focusing even more of their efforts on lobbying. The disappearance of honeybees is something that USDA and the White House Council on Environmental Quality were concerned about during the Obama Administration. Asking Congress, in conjunction with other food companies that rely on honey bees, for additional resources for USDA to research and develop policies to support honey bees would likely have an outsized impact on the amount of funding that the efforts receive. I think the question you raise is ultimately an important one – Häagen-Dazs is not a brand that is associated with bees or honey, so should they be putting their sustainability efforts elsewhere?

  2. I had not considered the impact of pollinators such as bees on companies like Häagen-Dazs. The declining bee population is definitely going to be an increasing concern in coming years. To your question about taking a stand against non sustainable agriculture I would say yes they should. To this point modern agriculture has been fairly slow to make changes stemming from issues such as overspray of pesticides. From my experience at a large agriculture equipment manufacturer I know that companies are coming out with products that help to minimize the amount of chemicals required and help place chemicals more precisely where they are needed through a combination of technology and new spray nozzles. However, these solutions can only reduce the risk of chemicals so far. To move the sustainable agriculture movement forward I think Häagen-Dazs has a couple of options. Häagen-Dazs could either lobby law makers to create more stringent regulations around chemical usage or they can adjust their supply chain to only purchasing organic products giving producers an incentive to use more sustainable practices.

  3. Häagen-Dazs’s advocacy for the honey bees is mostly a PR move. While the issue is featured prominently on their website and is an issue worth attention, I do not believe that this is a significant concern to Häagen Dazs’s supply chain. By selecting an environmental issue that is tangentially related to their product and that has been picked up by popular culture, Häagen Dazs is able to benefit from the public’s collective conscious as well as its intrigue in what had initially been dubbed a mysterious phenomenon. If Häagen Dazs’s intentions were social good, it should turn its attentions to far more relevant issues facing society today. The obesity epidemic in many developed countries is directly tied to Häagen Dazs’s fattening and high sugar content products, however, suggesting consumers limit the intake of their product is not beneficial to the company. Another significant issue related to the dairy industry is the methane production from dairy cows. A dairy farm with 700 cows produces 10x the amount of methane, a greenhouse gas contributing to global warming, than a fracking well everyday [1]. This issue is far less appealing to the public, though, than the disappearance of the adorable honey bee. Häagen-Dazs’s avoidance of issues at the core of their business indicates that their motivation is mainly related to marketing and not risk to its operations.

    One Green Planet. “Milk Life? How About Milk Destruction: The Shocking Truth About the Dairy Industry and the Environment.” http://www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/the-dairy-industry-and-the-environment/, accessed November 2017.

  4. I agree with Kiley that this is mostly a PR play for Haagen Daazs, though on slightly different grounds. Namely, Haagen Daazs is not the player who can actually impact this issue. First of all, Haagen Daazs is a small player relatively speaking, with revenues around $2B (https://www.forbes.com/sites/yehongzhu/2016/06/21/the-worlds-top-selling-ice-cream-brands-2/#63c33ce75a89). And, as Kiley pointed out, this is only a tangential issue for them as it only impacts certain of their flavors.

    I believe that this consumer-focused campaign is really to create “buzz” (pun intended). If they cared deeply about the bee issue, they would hammer their fruit and nut suppliers, whose entire businesses depend on bees.

    Moreover, HD is owned by General Mills, so why have a brand-specific campaign if not for marketing purposes?

  5. Thank you for an interesting read! I do find it a bit misleading that Haagen Dazs raises the issue of bee-extinction when honey bees specifically are not the breed of bees facing extinction risk (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/10/10/believe-it-or-not-the-bees-are-doing-just-fine/). I think there is plenty of room for brands to educate consumers about sustainability issues impacting the food products they love; however, it is worth the extra diligence to back up the story with consumer education.

    The split-ownership of the Haagen Dazs brand creates an interesting lens with which to look at this issue. As of 2001, Nestle owns Haagen Dazs US, the brand running this campaign, while General Mills owns the brand in the rest of the world (https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB1009414941983387480). Not only are the ice cream ingredients and quality (above-average in US vs. super-premium in rest of world) quite different, there is little collaboration on global brand-image and campaigns. How should the brand effectively raise sustainability issues with global consumers in this case?

  6. I would echo the sentiments of the other commenters in that Häagen-Dazs is likely doing this initiative for PR purposes. Given the shift in the last few years toward organic and sustainable foods, I think Häagen-Dazs will have a higher likelihood of influencing consumer behavior if it maintains its current levels of investment in the bee population and expands its sustainability initiatives to other food groups, such as chocolate. I learned from ELH’s article that world cocoa supply is facing downward pressure due to climate change (https://digital.hbs.edu/platform-rctom/submission/a-world-without-chocolate-what-cargill-is-doing-to-ensure-we-can-get-our-sweet-fix/?). I think that supporting sustainable cocoa farming practices would build on Häagen-Dazs’s image of being a sustainable producer of high quality ice cream products.

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