I never really considered leaving my previous agency (of 20 years) until fairly recently. After all, I helped build the business, hired much of the team, poured half of my life into it. I was hired as a fresh-faced kid just out of college, worked my way up from a junior designer (where my crowning achievement was a kickin’ flyer I made for the owner’s kid’s soccer team) and eventually reached what I thought was the pinnacle of my career: Chief Creative Officer and Chief Operations Officer. Then the business landscape started shifting, and so did I.
I cut my teeth with large CPG brands like Nestle, Dreyer’s, Kraft, Heinz, Anheuser-Busch, and Sara Lee—the established players we lovingly refer to today as “Big Food.” Over the last few years, I’ve watched the needs of the CPG Food & Beverage industry change, and in a direction that fires me up: emerging brands taking on large established brands with innovative products and disruptive branding.
As a child of the 80s, I know how Karate Kid works—you always root for the underdog. When it became clear that I couldn’t pivot the agency I’d helped establish, I knew I needed to change course and build my own creative shop: one designed to help smaller, innovative brands learn how to wax on and wax off with top-level branding and packaging that works hard and makes an impact.
A Short History of Change
Let me back up a little. In ye olden times, smaller brands existed, but the natural foods movement was still the quiet kid in the corner. Not really a threat to anyone, especially not to Big Food. But over the past decade, and specifically the last few years, the industry has experienced a swell of small brands breaking into grocery aisles and onto the scene, giving these mass market end cap hoarders a run for their money. As I watched the tides begin to turn, I grew more and more obsessed with these emerging brands, innovative ingredients, and breakthrough products.
Anyone who knows me knows I have a passion (pathological compulsion? I hate to label things) to try every new grocery product I see. Much to my family’s annoyance, I can spend hours in Erewhon or Costco or the corner market or Walmart perusing the aisles for new brands, flavors, line extensions. I’m a glutton for innovation and am blissfully nondiscriminatory—I will happily chase a cup of MudWtr with a coffee made with Fruity Pebbles creamer. I love it all. Some people love crossfit or board games, I decompress in the awkwardly lit, too-cold frozen aisle. The heart wants what it wants.
With all these new brands on the scene, I had to be part of the innovation. I made it my mission to work with the smaller, emerging brands that I was so enamored with. Over the years I helped a slew of young brands launch and grow, but I wanted more. But the old agency model is just not conducive to innovative branding work, so I started thinking about building something new.
New Brand, Who Dis?
When I was at Expo West earlier this year, the stark contrast between established and emerging brands really hit me in the face. The main hall was full of conventional, ho-hum brands doing what they’ve always done. Traditional, expected, and mainstay visuals filled the aisles. It felt like the grocery stores of my youth, only a lot less interesting and more dusty the second time around.
In contrast, the Hot Products areas were on fire (yes, pun intended)! The bar for creative excitement and strong branding was high. Brands that were not completely dialed in may as well have been exhibiting in their mom’s basement: they were invisible. Years ago, a small brand could launch with packaging that the founder’s brother-in-law put together in Canva. But in today’s crowded marketplace, new brands need well-developed and meaningfully differentiated branding and packaging design. And that requires an experienced agency.
So I set my sights on creating an agency that is built for innovation, creative disruption and flexibility—catering to innovative emerging brands and established brands that want to disrupt. Powered by kombucha, nitro coffee, cricket protein and adaptogenic mushrooms, I changed course from the massive conventional food and bev space toward the bright light of innovation, health and wellness.
A Mudge is Born
Elevating innovative, emerging brands by offering best-in-class branding and packaging is IT for me. It’s why I finally jumped the big agency ship and created Mudge. Dubbed Mudge after my maiden name—my OG brand—that has stuck with me despite my best efforts (the best brand names are memorable, no?). We quietly opened our doors for business in April 2022, and have already helped launch and transform some incredible brands.
Mudge was born to help innovative brands launch, grow and disrupt. We have no physical office, but are home to a solid team of designers, strategists, copywriters and production artists who are as enamored with food, bev and innovation as I am (yes, it’s possible!). We are nimble, flexible, and eventually you’ll forget we’re an agency at all because we’ll feel like part of your team. We’ll also drop some epic jokes, sometimes wear costumes, and probably make your Tuesday just a little bit more interesting. Especially if you like candy corn and mom jokes.
We do things differently here. Let’s get real, every agency says this. What we do at Mudge is shaped by our experience, and we have a lot of it. We’ve thrown away the old practices and the “we’ve always done it this way”s and kept the passion, enthusiasm and savant-level understanding of food and beverage. We love all forms of innovation—tech, social justice, personal care—and it informs everything we do.
Like other agencies, we have processes, but we are not bound to them. Our structure keeps us flexible, nimble, and perfectly suited for brands who want to break new ground. We push our brand partners to go a little further, take a risk, disrupt their category, shatter a convention or two. And we don’t BS just to placate founders or to make a buck: we tell the truth. We’re generous with our network and connections. Need a recommendation for a 3PL? An Amazon consultant? A trademark attorney? We got you. Same goes for Netflix recos and book clubs.
No Boring Ideas
I started Mudge because I want to help brands do something big, ambitious, new. We’re here to help founders, entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs think beyond the expected. After all, innovative products need innovative branding. Mudge was birthed to provoke new ideas—not to follow trends but to start them—and to give brands the courage to disrupt.
This is just the beginning for us. Stick around as we create this new, wild, wonderful agency where anything is possible and conventions are built to be shattered.
Follow us (IG, LI) and keep an eye on our newsletter to hear more about projects, food and bev trends, innovation, branding and packaging geekdom and mom jokes. And hit us up if you want to chat about working together. I’d love to tell you about that new thing I found in the frozen food section last week.