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Häagen-Dazs Loves Honey Bees

By Jim Witkin

This series of articles features organizations that will be speaking at Sustainable Brands Vancouver. Click here for more. 

If you’ve ever wanted a bee’s-eye view of what life is like for the planet’s hardest working pollinators, then check out the new virtual reality video experience "The Extraordinary Honey Bee" developed for Nestlé’s Häagen-Dazs brand.

The award-winning five-minute video follows Alex the worker bee on her journey through an almond orchard as she explains the importance of bees to the world’s food supply and describes the threats facing bee populations from our modern farming practices.

The plight of the honey bees and many other pollinator species has come into sharp focus in recent years. One third of the world’s food supply depends on pollination, but many species are experiencing significant decline or even extinction due to habitat loss and exposure to pesticides and disease.

While governments around the world continue to debate the causes and cures for the problem, many corporations and NGOs are stepping up to raise awareness and take action.

The Häagen-Dazs brand, for example, has been busy since 2008 when it launched its Häagen-Dazs Loves Honey Bees program. Over the past ten years, the company has donated more than $1 million to honey bee research, educated consumers around pollinator issues, and worked with suppliers to adopt pollinator-friendly farming practices.

Taken together, all this work puts them “very much at the forefront of pollinator conservation in the corporate arena,” according to conservation specialist Cameron Newell from the Xerces Society, a leading NGO in this area.

And no wonder, considering that ingredients in 26 different Häagen Dazs flavors now rely on pollinated crops. A world without bees means a world without flavors like Rocky Road, Vanilla Swiss Almond, and Coconut Caramel.

For Rachel Jaiven, the Häagen-Dazs Brand Manager, the equation is simple. “Any risks to the bee population is a risk to our products, so over the past ten years we’ve really tried to focus on bringing awareness to the importance of honey bees but also trying to make sure that our work with our suppliers is helping those populations survive and grow,” she said.

The brand’s work with suppliers includes creating year-round habitat. In 2017, Häagen-Dazs installed one of the country’s largest, privately funded pollinator habitats on an almond farm in California’s Central Valley. The habitat spans 6.5 miles of hedgerow and 28 acres of understory habitat with native drought-tolerant shrubs and flowering plants that are attractive to pollinators. In total, the project impacts 840 acres of farmland.

The brand’s second pollinator habitat is being planted on the farm of one of its strawberry suppliers in Oregon.

For both these projects, Häagen-Dazs partnered with the Xerces Society. “We had to bring in outside specialists and agronomists where needed, expert organizations like Xerces Society, to really help inform what we do in our supply chain and how we educate and support our individual suppliers,” said Jaiven.

In fact, the brand is working toward the Xerces Bee Better certification, a new third-party verified standard that requires creating large pollinator habitat areas on farms and eliminating harmful pesticide practices.

Oregon Tilth, a nonprofit organization that promotes organic and sustainable growing practices, is the third-party agency certifying Bee Better farms and products. The list of pesticides includes those considered moderately and highly toxic to pollinators by the US EPA, according to Cameron Newell who is the Bee Better Certified coordinator for Xerces.

Brands that achieve this certification can place the Bee Better seal on their packaging to indicate the ingredients were grown and harvested in a bee-friendly manner.

Over the last ten years, Häagen-Dazs has learned a thing or two about how to launch and sustain initiatives like this and how to reach consumers with their message, said Jaiven. And the best way to reach consumers is “as close to the product experience as possible,” she believes.

And you can’t get much closer to the consumer than the recent Free Cone Day pop-up event at Häagen-Dazs retail shops featuring all the bee-friendly flavors. Anyone who stopped by the shop got a free ice cream cone and got an education on the brand’s ten-year involvement with bee conservation. Members of the Häagen-Dazs Shops corporate team were at some of the stores helping people download and view “The Extraordinary Honey Bee” video.

“Consumers want to know that your brand stands for more than one thing; they want to know that you are supporting something bigger than just selling products,” she said, “so in-person interactions at the shops are a great way for us to talk about this work.”

Jaiven said the brand also received a tremendous amount of coverage for the event and gave away some 325,000 scoops on the day, up from 310,000 the year before.  

Another touchpoint with consumers is on the product packaging. A “Häagen-Dazs Loves Honey Bees” symbol on the packaging of bee-friendly flavors allows consumers to make an immediate connection and bring awareness to the issue, said Jaiven, and “it gives consumers confidence that their purchasing decisions benefit pollinators.”

Nestlé is a sponsor and will be exhibiting at the upcoming Sustainable Brands 2018 conference June 4-7 in Vancouver, where the theme is redesigning product and service offerings for the “The Good Life.” So how does the Häagen-Dazs brand’s work with honey bees fit this theme?

According to Jaiven, “It’s always been important for us to consider quality and deliver the best ingredients and taste experience for our consumers. When we think about the good life, it’s about consumers enjoying our products today but also knowing these quality ingredients will be around for generations to come and that’s all about the work we are doing with honey bees.”  

If you’re attending SB’18, stop by their booth to taste the new flavor created to commemorate the 10-year anniversary, Honey Salted Caramel Almond. Also, don’t miss the chance to view “The Extraordinary Honey Bee” with the latest, state-of-the-art virtual reality headsets.

3BL Media is a Major Media Partner for SB’18 Vancouver. As a valued member of the community, you can receive 20% off a pass of your choice with code ‘JoinUs’. Learn more about SB’18 Vancouver and register today.

Jim Witkin headshot

Jim Witkin is a writer based in Silicon Valley and London focused on business, technology and the environment. His work has been featured in the New York Times and Guardian newspapers. He holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School.

Read more stories by Jim Witkin