A Friendly Bread innovates grilled cheese for gourmet convenience

December 20, 2023

Before Kraft Heinz introduced its Lunchables Grilled Cheesies frozen sandwich in September 2023, the Baltimore-based startup, A Friendly Bread, offered an adult version of the concept that uses sourdough bread in March 2022. Lane Levine, founder of A Friendly Bread, wanted to offer consumers a convenient frozen product that would be perceived as a premium item, reports Food Business News.

“I originally began [this] as a fresh bread business in 2018 and started selling at farmers markets and doing bread delivery,” Levine said. “When we would be at farmers markets, customers would come up to me and show me photos of what they were doing with my sourdough product—turning them into gourmet foods.”

The ideas inspired Levine to begin experimenting with his bread and turn it into his grilled cheese sandwiches. Grilled cheese night dinners at a local apartment complex is where he developed flavors and learned how well the sourdough bread transformed into a grilled cheese sandwich.

“We brought premade ones (grilled cheese sandwiches) so it would be easier to heat them up at the event,” Mr. Levine said. “I also had them sitting at home in the fridge and friends would start heating them up and that’s the first time it hit me to make a packaged product that was scalable because you could preserve it through freezing or refrigeration and you could get a lot more value out of an individual loaf of bread.”

Since launching the frozen grilled cheese sandwiches in March 2022, Levine’s target audience has grown from work-from-home millennials to grandmothers enjoying the sandwiches with their grandchildren.

“Our initial target audience out the gate was the millennial who is busy all day in meetings, and they can take ten minutes to throw the sandwich in the toaster oven, sit back, work and it’s done,” he said. “But we also found that an even more devoted demographic is older women—specifically, [those] who are only cooking for one and don’t want to make a whole thing about it, but also want something comforting but high quality. It’s also the older ladies within the categories of grandmas getting them for their grandkids and sharing them.”

Levine said specialty retail has been the company’s sweet spot and the product has gained entry in Fresh Market, Giant Food, and The Giant Co., both owned by Ahold-Delhaize.

“We’re more concerned with growing recognition on a regional basis in the mid-Atlantic and the East Coast more broadly,” he said. “If we do launch with more conventional stores, as long as we’re able to do demos and build awareness, we’re willing to give it a try in our region.”

Levine also is giving direct-to-consumer a go, but said the business currently is mostly retail focused. “Online really isn’t our focus; it’s really hard to ship,” he said. “We started to see a few orders come (in for a) full case of grilled cheese (sandwiches), but logistically it’s just not our wheelhouse.”

The company also has identified demand on college campuses, convenience stores, and quick foodservice. “College campuses are perfect because, like Starbucks, you get the grilled cheese and they’ll heat it up for you in their TurboChef,” Levine said.

“So, at these college campus coffee shops they’re able to do the same thing with ours:  Throw it into a TurboChef; it takes 90 seconds and it’s done.”

Levine said they also are doing research to see if the product can be stored in refrigerated sections of stores and outlets. “We’re currently doing shelf-life testing with a lab right now; because, within the quick-service setting, it makes it that much more convenient to grab it out of the fridge, slap it in the oven, and it only takes 45 seconds instead of 90,” he said.

The company currently is self-manufacturing its products.

Research contact: FoodBizNews