When Louisiana rice farmer Mike Frugé decided to become one of the first distillers in the US to produce rice whiskey and vodka, he needed an agency who could provide a holistic approach to his new products.
The American innovator approached DAf about a collaborative project to create and develop the brand, name it, design the packaging and create a brand storytelling so he would be ready to take his product to market. It was a big project and an exciting opportunity for DAf to unite its two passions—strategy and creativity—to craft a new brand.
This project presented the chance to work on a strong strategy for the brand, while also developing its creative direction from scratch. DAf traveled to Louisiana to meet the Frugés and discover the nuances of their family farm’s 150-year history. By visiting the farm and conducting an extensive interview process with Mike, DAf had a solid basis to build his new brand to reflect both him and his family history. It was clear that the brand DNA would be a fusion of two elements: the Frugé’s family heritage and the importance of rice and crawfish farming for their family and for Louisiana.
A brand storytelling was developed, weaving together the Frugé family history and the importance of rice in Louisiana culture, giving value to this new product as well as intrinsically linking it with Louisiana heritage. This is the story of J.T. Meleck:
One family, one farm, one great idea…
a new Louisiana classic.
This is a story about providence.
It begins in 1896, when J.T. Meleck had the crazy idea to grow his first rice on 20 acres of marshland in south Louisiana. He called it Providence Rice. He provided hard work and sometimes providence provided the water. Against the odds, the name J.T. Meleck became synonymous with Louisiana rice, but to us he will always be great, great uncle John.
Four generations later my brother and I still grow rice – and now crawfish – on the same 20 acres as our Uncle John. We’ve grown a little since then but we are still as connected to the dirt as J.T. Meleck.
Rice has become part of the fabric of Louisiana and the Cajun culture. Served in gumbo or smothered in crawfish étouffée. Just like rice needs gravy, good times need good food and drink. We like a cold beer, but nothing beats the “brown cajun cocktail”.
Over the years I began thinking, why not make our own? And what if we could make a great spirit from our rice? It would make our Uncle John proud…
The result is something truly special. It’s not just another bourbon, or scotch, or even a blend. It’s an American Rice Whiskey, born right here on our farm, just off highway 35 in Branch, Louisiana.
And like any good Cajun invention, if one is good, then two must be better. So we made a rice vodka, too. While the road to get there wasn’t always smooth, the result certainly is. Turns out, it’s the smoothest vodka we’ve ever tasted: effortless to drink, as tranquil as evenings on the porch, and as warming as nights spent telling stories by the fire.
We’re proud to take our rice from grain to glass.
We work the dirt and grow the seed, just like Uncle John did. That’s why we’ve named it J.T. Meleck. Because our crazy idea has managed to create a whole new Louisiana classic. One that goes straight from our farm to your front porch.
That’s what we call providence.
NAMING AND PACKAGING DESIGN
Passing through an extensive strategic process the rice spirit was named after Mike Frugé’s equally innovative grandfather. J.T. Meleck represented the Germanic side of the family, as opposed to the Frugé Francophone Acadians, and was an inspiration to Mike for his ability to overcome even the worst setbacks and make the rice farm thrive.
To further represent the brand, the packaging designs for both products were steeped in family and Louisiana history, reflecting the rice and crawfish farming for which the state—and the Frugés—are known.
Louisiana’s influence is further reinforced through use of the color blue and the fleur-de-lis lily motif, while the “imperfect” style of the crawfish illustration, and of the logo itself, make reference to the honest hardwork of this family and of the man who began it all: J.T. Meleck
Taken at the Frugé’s farm, DAf’s original photography clearly depicts the protagonists of in the story of these rice spirits: the land, crawfish, rice, love for Louisiana and a desire to always share food and good times with family.
A storytelling video was developed to present the new rice spirits to consumers. Mike Frugé provides the voiceover, sharing his family’s four-generation story of farming the same 20 acres first planted by J.T. Meleck. Relaxed and conversational, the film features both original photography and video content. When combined with Mike’s calm, engaging tone, the visuals faithfully depict the backbone of this new brand: Louisianan culture and a family’s history. This video was a straightforward, one cameraman production, gifted to the client to share with their distributors, and produced in such a way as to capture Louisiana clearly and simply.
DAf created a brand book to communicate appropriate use of each component of J.T. Meleck’s branding; including brand concept, storytelling, visual identity, color, typography, photography and application samples.
The Frugé family were extremely contented with the outcome of the project. While the whiskey is coming to the end of its aging process, the vodka has already launched and is performing well in the market:
“The vodka is off to a magnificent start,” the client informed us. “The bottle is being received extremely well. People understand our story just by looking at the packaging design.”
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