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The Plight of the Honey Bee – Part 3: Haagen-Dazs Tries to Save the Bee

December 10, 2009

How concerned are agricultural companies about losing their hardest workers? Nevermind their most plentiful employees? Without bees, many products won’t be able to be grown in the same way; if at all. This has a ripple effect all the way up the supply chain to companies that combine several ingredients dependent upon bee pollination.

Dryer’s, the ice cream company that owns Häagen-Dazs, is one of the few companies doing something about it.  To help raise money for research and awareness about CCD, Häagen-Dazs launched the Häagen-Dazs Loves Honey Bees program. For details on the program, here’s Sr. Public Relations Manager for Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream, Diane McIntrye.

Q: Can you give me a run-down of the program? How does it work? How long have you been doing it?

The Häagen-Dazs loves Honey Bees™ program was launched in February 2008 and is currently in its second year.  The brand’s commitment to the honey bee program this year included a second donation to UC Davis and Penn State universities of $250,000, bringing the brand’s total donation for honey bee research to a half million dollars over two years.  The brand also continued the special Häagen-Dazs Vanilla Honey Bee ice cream flavor, and the HD loves HB™ symbol and message under the carton lids on all bee-built flavors.  For more information, visit http://www.helpthehoneybees.com.

Q: How much has been raised? How do you know it is effective?

Both Penn State and UC Davis have seen a significant increase in donations toward bee research which they attribute to the increased awareness generated by the HDlovesHB national campaign.

Q: From a branding and marketing perspective, what’s the best evidence you have that this is a good cause for Häagen-Dazs to associate with?

The discovery of the honey bee problem hit very close to home. Fifty percent of our flavors include at least one ingredient – from fruits to nuts and berries – that is pollinated by honey bees. Aside from the devastating impact on the brand, the larger significance was even more staggering: 1/3 of all foods that Americans eat are honey-bee pollinated. And no one was championing the cause. For us, this was our epiphany – an issue we could…and should…be behind. It offered us a way to really engage our consumers.

Q:  I realize why honey bees might be important to producing the ingredients for Häagen-Dazs, but how important is it to you? How many of your ingredients are reliant on a healthy bee industry?

Nearly 50 percent of Häagen-Dazs all-natural ice cream flavors include ingredients that require honey bee pollination.  And, in fact, if you include bee-pollinated alfalfa used to feed cattle, which produce the natural cream and milk used in our ice creams, nearly 100 percent of our flavors rely on honey bees to exist.

Q: The idea of life, never mind agriculture, without bees is a pretty frightening prospect. How do you think CCD will affect the agricultural business? How big of a deal is CCD? Do you think we’re in the clear?

CCD is a very big deal.  Honey bee pollination directly results in about $15 billion worth of fruits, vegetables and nuts.  The California almond crop alone uses 1.3 million colonies of bees for pollination, approximately one half of all the honey bees in the United States.  Sadly, based on the status updates we receive from our Häagen-Dazs Bee Board and other members of the bee community around the U.S., I don’t think we’re in the clear. In fact, early reports from the East Coast are once again showing high losses.

Q: You’ve created a “Bee Board” made up of experts in the field. What’s the Board’s role? Does the Board look at how to publicize new findings in bee research or does the Board offer advice the company on how you can look at your own business processes? How do you take in advice from these individuals?

The Bee Board enables us to maximize the insight of the people closest to the problem.  It’s an advisory board of educators, researchers and professional beekeepers.  Bee Board members will help us ensure the messages we’re sending are accurate, and the actions we’re taking are the ones that deliver the greatest impact and do the most good.

Q: Has anything changed about your business processes? For example, do you look at your own supply chain to determine how the company’s purchasing decisions can have a stronger impact on healthier bees?

We buy from domestic suppliers who follow all federal and state guidelines, including USDA and FDA guidelines, but since the cause of CCD is still unknown, funding research to determine what is harmful to honey bees is the first step in identifying what steps we can take to help honey bees.  Since we do know that providing ample nutrition sources is one way we can help the honey bees, all Häagen-Dazs brand facilities, including our corporate office, are landscaped with bee-friendly plants.

Q: What’s next for the Help the Honey Bees campaign?

We’re currently in the process of planning the Häagen-Dazs loves Honey Bees 2010 program.

Q: How do you communicate and promote this cause internally?

We devoted a great deal of attention to involving the Häagen-Dazs brand staff and sales force – with projects growing beyond pure educational/informational programs and newsletters into the creation of bee-friendly landscaping at our offices and employees volunteering in grade schools. One of the most gratifying outcomes of this campaign has been its energizing impact on the leadership and staff of not only the Häagen-Dazs brand, but also of Dreyer’s and even of Nestlé. We have become the poster child for sustainability within the larger corporation and have gotten many more people involved and aware of the honey bee issue.

Q: What can the average person do to help support this cause?

The Häagen-Dazs brand encourages everyone to find a way to support the honey bee cause.  Here’s how you can make a difference:

  • Create a bee friendly garden with plants that attract honey bees. Select a plant with a long growing season or a group of plants that together will offer flowers from spring through fall.  A great resource for information can be found at www.helpthehoneybees.com, or from the horticulturalist at your local plant nursery.
  • Avoid insecticides in your garden.  Instead, promote good bugs (called ‘beneficial insects’) in your garden – bugs that will happily eat the bad bugs chomping on your plants.  A comprehensive resource for information is www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/ and http://horticulture.psu.edu/extension/mg
  • Every time you buy a Häagen-Dazs ice cream bee-built product, a portion of the proceeds of the sale go toward helping the honey bees.
  • Tell a friend – The honey bee disappearance is already having an effect on the world’s most beloved foods. However, many people have yet to learn about this issue and how they can help. Visit www.helpthehoneybees.com to send a Bee-Mail or to create your own animated honey bee to help spread the word.
  • Visit the Häagen-Dazs Bee Store at www.helpthehoneybees.com – All proceeds from our bee store will fund CCD and sustainable pollination research at Penn State and UC Davis.

Q: How else does Dreyer’s support the community?

The Dreyer’s Foundation provides financial grants and product donations to non-profit organizations and schools through its Large and Small Grant programs, employee community involvement fund and Rocky Road Community bus.

Q: Okay, I have to ask, what’s your favorite flavor?

Of course, I really enjoy Vanilla Honey Bee, but it is a hard choice between that and any of the new Häagen-Dazs® Five flavors.  With the holiday’s right around the corner I’ve also been enjoying our Limited Edition Peppermint Bark ice cream.

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