Haagen Dazs rum and raisin

‘Deconstructing’ series: How Häagen Dazs rewrote the rules on ice cream

At Rare Design, we’re obsessed with innovation and admire brands that do it well. Häagen-Dazs, the world’s leading premium ice cream brand, ripped up the rulebook when they launched in 1961 and have used innovation to reap the rewards ever since.

Häagen-Dazs, a brand synonymous with quality, used innovation to differentiate itself from its competitors and re-interpret the way ice cream was viewed by consumers. When you buy Häagen-Dazs, you buy a luxurious experience, not simply a nice tasting product. Here we look at how innovation has been central to this most classy of brands.

Innovative: Recipe

Our innovation and creative vision champion, Andrew Piper, explains the genius about the Häagen-Dazs taste: “When I have Haagen-Dazs in the house, I don’t think about flavour, I think about Häagen-Dazs. The richness, the creaminess, the quality of the product, rather than the individual flavour, it’s the incredible intensity that’s its position of strength.”

Häagen-Dazs taste and texture owes more to craft than chance. The company began with three basic flavors but with a focus on premium quality production and the origin of their ingredients—the dark chocolate was from Belgium, vanilla beans from Madagascar, macadamia nuts from Hawaii.

As consumers, we’re now used to going into coffee shops and asking for a single origin Ethiopian brew, or ordering locally reared meat in restaurants. In the 1960s (or even the 1980s), not so much. Häagen-Dazs made the quality of ingredients a priority from the beginning and the focus on premium set themselves apart in supermarket freezers.

Innovative: Positioning

Before Häagen-Dazs, ice cream was cheaply produced and cheap to buy, largely targeted at a family or kids’ market. Häagen-Dazs ushered in a new age in which ice cream could be exclusive, prestigious, sophisticated and, by the early 1990s, even sexy.

Look at 1991s ‘Lose Control’ campaign. Heavily influenced by fashion photography, this thrust the brand into a space never occupied by ice cream before. It was no longer a treat for the kids, it was a serious, luxury indulgence for adults.

By targeting a niche market segment with high income, Häagen-Dazs adopted a premium price strategy 2-3 times more expensive than competitors.

It helped that co-founder, Reuben Mattus, was a marketing man at heart. Despite its distinctly European sounding name Häagen-Dazs originated in The Bronx, New York city. Mattus knew the importance of differentiation and positioning: “If you’re the same like everybody else, you’re lost,” he said. “The number one thing was to get a foreign sounding name.”

Andrew agrees that the high-end positioning allowed for the extra cost on high-quality ingredients: “It’s taken a lot of the same mixture of ingredients with some significant points of quality differential. If that increases its costs of goods by 20%, the premium positioning and the role that it plays, as a really luxury desert, has increased its value by 50%. So its value creation from the positioning far exceeds any excess costs. That’s a real game changer, and it was instrumental in changing attitudes towards ice cream in the UK.

“When starting out on the innovation process, positioning is everything. If we understand that it is something that is a lifestyle choice, a premium moment of indulgence, a sensual overload akin to all sorts of other things you might do, those positioning points are going to sharply define what comes out in terms of the expression.”

Innovative: Packaging

Before Häagen-Dazs, it was the norm for ice cream to be packaged in large scoop plastic tubs, a package in line with the low end, children’s treat market ice cream was known for. The Häagen-Dazs packaging was different and allowed the product to stand out. The products were (and still are) categorized by size in individual cups, jars of 500ml, mini-jars of 100ml and the stick bar. The pots have a specific protective cap to assure the quality of the product within.

The packaging is easily recognizable and Andrew explains the beauty of the branding: “In a way it’s above product, the Häagen-Dazs brand doesn’t look like ice-cream, it looks like a brand. If you think about the way they express their packaging, it’s not highly developed to make us think about how ice cream will feel in our mouths, or how tasty it is, it’s a brand that signifies something great, and it happens to signify something great in ice cream.”


Frozen class: The power of Häagen-Dazs is creating luxury in a previously unglamorous vertical

Häagen-Dazs’ relentless commitment to quality has led to a very strong brand identity. The logo is rich, with golden colors and black fonts in order to impress its luxuriousness. It’s also accompanied with the moto “made like no other.” All the advertisements are focused on highlighting the luxury flavors of the products and the unique exotic tastes.

Innovative: Consistency

The challenge for heritage brands is to stay relevant. When their packaging was starting to lose impact on shelf in 2011 Häagen-Dazs created a new contemporary design. As the logo and colour scheme retained great equity these aspects remained but with a subtle innovation. The new cartons featured a gold background which made the text standout and reflected the texture of the ice cream within. Häagen-Dazs have also innovated with their offering and introduced various products. Frozen yoghurt in 1991, sorbet in ‘93, and more recently the Häagen-Dazs crispy sandwich; all innovations, yet all indelibly on-brand.

Using innovation Häagen-Dazs re-wrote the rules for ice cream. Andrew explains:

Häagen-Dazs changed the concept of ice cream from a big tub of soft scoop raspberry ripple for kids, to becoming a £5 pot of adult ice cream. Half the quantity and solid as a rock, but like nothing you’d ever tasted before. This combination of an optimised product and a format we haven’t seen before – the cardboard pot, the foreign sounding name –  made the product an imported mystery and the eye-watering price tag created the understanding that this will change the way you think about ice cream.”

In so many ways, Häagen-Dazs’ set the benchmark for the luxury FMCG goods of today. Think of Gü, think of any supermarkets high-end product lines, and its influence is clear. Its innovations have become the norm, we’re interested to see where they go next.

Interested in design led innovation? See how Rare has helped other heritage brands. And follow us on Twitter for up-to-date design news and views.


Photo credits:

Featured image by Toshiyuki IMAI via Flickr. CC license 2.0

Haagen Dazs pots- By Cookantean (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

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