Bringing Häagen-Dazs Ice Cream to Your Door in a Reusable, Recyclable, No-Hassle Container

How one team is making a sustainable ice cream dream a reality

Elizabell Marquez
Jan 24, 2019 · 6 min read

Long before I joined the Häagen-Dazs team, the brand had a history of dedication to sustainability. Perhaps best known among the team’s efforts is the work we’ve done to support honey bees — a vital part of the ecosystem, under threat from climate change. Our work has spanned from supporting hedgerow habitats, to creating educational resources like our award-winning virtual reality honey bee experience, to donating $1 million to honey bee sustainability research.

With that in mind, we’re still looking for opportunities to develop our sustainable actions — it matters to the people who love our ice cream, and it matters to us too.

We recently announced a partnership with TerraCycle on a project called Loop — a home delivery service that would bring Häagen-Dazs (and other food items) to your front door in a fully reusable package, and later pick up the empty ice cream container, clean it, refill it, and return it to you. Sound familiar? It’s like the traditional service you might receive from a milk-man, but with a modern innovative twist.

Making this happen has not been simple. Ice cream has one quality that makes home delivery fairly challenging: it melts! Our team had to overcome a number of challenges to turn this ice cream dream into a reality. Here’s a look at the lessons we learned along the way.

Lesson One — Harnessing the power of our scale to think like a small business

Nestlé is a big company. We’re serving a large range of products to people all over the United States. Delivering large scale shipments to grocery stores? We know how to do that — it’s a part of our every day. Manufacturing and delivering tailored orders to an individual consumer on demand? That’s the kind of work a small, agile business specializes in.

Steve Yeh, the project manager who took on this challenge, explains: “This project was about hyper-care for each product. We had to adapt our big company thinking and remove some of the barriers to agility. Fortunately, we were given permission from the outset to do the work, without pausing to ask for permission at every turn.”

Steve and the team had about six months to take the project from a commitment, to a reality. They had to work with teams across the United States, and overseas in Switzerland. It was a huge collaboration — all designed to make sure we could bring great ice cream to your front door.

“This combination of global teams working to take regional action has been really exciting,” Steve explains. “Even more so because it’s going to result in something valuable for the planet and tangible for the consumer — something they can see, and hold, and taste.”

Lesson Two — Finding a material that can withstand a freezer and high temperature cleaning

Ice cream has to be freezing cold, or it melts. It has to be freezing cold in transit, and in your home, even when you’re handling it. The container for this project needed to be reusable: it should survive for up to 100 uses before being recycled. It also had to be cleaned, which requires exposure to extreme high temperature. So — what could we use that was hardy enough to survive these conditions?

Packaging expert Tommy See Tho was the man for the job. “We considered a few options, but stainless steel emerged as the best candidate. It’s a tough material, for one, and it’s easily recyclable. The challenge then was finding a way to make sure it maintained the high-quality Häagen-Dazs ice cream inside by insulating it from the heat of your hands.”

Keeping ice cream frozen is harder than you might think, but Tommy had the answers. “We made the package double-layered. One metal container inside a slightly bigger removable, metal container, with a space between for a stream of cold air to keep the ice cream cold longer when you’ve taken it out of the freezer to eat.”

We know a lot of you enjoy your ice cream straight out of the pint (me too!), so we kept that in mind too — as an added benefit, that barrier of air between your hands and the internal layer stops your hands from feeling the effects of freezing ice cream on stainless steel!

Cold ice cream, warm hands: a perfect combination.

Lesson Three — Making sure you always know what’s inside your pint of ice cream

Here’s the thing about a container that withstands high temperature, freezing, and has to be ready for another order from 5 flavor options (2 dairy, 3 non-dairy) as soon as it’s clean: it’s not so easy to label. We didn’t want to use disposable labels, which could undermine the sustainability of the package, and we quickly realized it was complicated to label the containers with five different flavors especially given that we didn’t yet know which flavor would be subject to the most demand.

Tommy was on the case. “The pint containers had to be interchangeable. We used heat transfer printing and created a uniform design for the primary containers. This printing goes safely on the stainless steel (and the steel is still completely recyclable), and a clear coating layer means the container can grow old gracefully as its used, as the coating takes the brunt of any bumps or scratches.”

We moved flavor indicators, allergen warnings, and ingredient discovery options to the lid — which is also recyclable stainless steel, but easier to switch out as necessary. So, you always know what’s inside your pint.

Lesson Four — Sweating the small stuff and never compromising on quality

Häagen-Dazs is all about a premium quality ice cream experience. That was always top of mind as we worked on this project. It’s great to have a reusable container — but how could we go above and beyond to bring you an experience you’ll love?

Aside from making sure your favorite flavors were available, we looked at the little things. We tested what it felt and sounded like when a spoon hits the edge of a stainless steel container until we were satisfied the sound wouldn’t disturb your enjoyment. We curved the inside bottom of the container, so that you wouldn’t have to dig into the corners of the pint to get at your last few spoonfuls. We changed the shape of the lid to make sure it was easy to grip and open.

Our team put in the work to get the details right, so you could get the best experience once the ice cream reaches your home. For us, that’s what Häagen-Dazs is all about.

These were just some of the challenges we had to overcome — a glimpse into the work that goes on behind the scenes to bring you a great product that’s doing a little extra to help the environment.

There’s so much to be excited about in these innovations. In learning these lessons, we’ve been getting ideas for the future to bring you more of the Häagen-Dazs you love in the most convenient way. One thing is for sure — after many years committing ourselves to sustainable actions and to increasing our agility and creativity, we’re not looking back now.

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