Chipotle puts startup investments into automation, plant-based ideas

Hypen automated kitchen solutions.

Courtesy: hyphen

Chipotle said Thursday it’s investing in two companies that have the potential to accelerate its growth — one that automates kitchen operations and another that makes plant-based versions of chicken and steak with mushrooms.

The Newport Beach, Calif.-based company said Cultivate Next, its $50 million venture fund, will invest in hyphen and meaty foods.

Hyphen uses robotics to automate the portioning of bowls and plates without staff, Chipotle said in a press release. Hyphen says its technology can cook over 350 meals an hour.

The investment comes amid nationwide staffing shortages and isn’t Chipotle’s first foray into automation investments. Last year, the company invested in Nuro, an automated delivery company, before launching its Cultivate Next fund. And in his year, the company piloted Chippy, an autonomous machine that cooks and seasons Chipotle chips.

“Our goal is to increase efficiency through collaborative robotics that allows Chipotle crew members to focus on other tasks in the restaurant,” said Curt Garner, Chipotle’s chief technology officer, in a statement sent to CNBC.

Meati Foods, which received Cultivate Next’s other investment, uses mushroom roots to make plant-based alternatives to chicken and steak. With help from Chipotle’s venture fund, Meati said it secured $150 million in its latest funding round.

Chipotle said in its press release that plant-based options have been a priority for its menu in recent years. The company said it has not yet started the process of validating Meati products for inclusion on its menu.

Chipotle hasn’t disclosed the dollar amount of investments in Hyphen or Meati. Chipotle puts startup investments into automation, plant-based ideas

Drew Weisholtz

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