Chipotle Invests in Robotic Makeline and Plant-based Protein via Its New Venture Fund
Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE: CMG) announced it is investing in Hyphen, a foodservice platform designed to help restaurant owners, operators, and budding chefs move their business forward by automating kitchen operations, and Meati Foods, a company focused on using proprietary, clean processes to provide nutritious, complete proteins made from mushroom root, as part of its first cohort for the Cultivate Next venture fund.
Cultivate Next is Chipotle’s $50 million venture fund that intends to make early-stage investments into strategically aligned companies that further its mission to Cultivate a Better World and help accelerate Chipotle’s aggressive growth plans. As a people-first company, Chipotle is seeking opportunities that will elevate the human experience for its teams as well as increase access and convenience for its guests. Investments may include innovations in farming and supply chain, advanced robotics like Hyphen, alternative proteins like Meati, and more.
Hyphen Builds a Link to the Future
Hyphen, based in San Jose, CA, believes that modern day kitchens need to move faster without sacrificing quality, accuracy, or hospitality. The company’s first product, The Makeline, is an automated system that utilizes advanced robotics and a customized operating system to give busy kitchens a reliable and precise way to make and fulfill orders. The Makeline assembles all digital orders under the counter via automated production while allowing staff to assemble in-house orders from the top of the counter.
“Hyphen is reimagining the intersection between makelines and digital kitchens, with a focus on improving speed and order accuracy,” said Curt Garner, Chief Technology Officer at Chipotle. “Their use of robotics to enhance the employee and guest experience to find efficiencies in the restaurant industry aligns with our mission of leveraging emerging technology to increase access to real food.”
“Chipotle’s investment in Hyphen will accelerate our hiring plans; allowing us to invest more heavily in R&D, all while providing the necessary infrastructure to scale sustainably,” said Stephen Klein, Co-founder and CEO of Hyphen. “We’re thrilled to work with Chipotle to find more innovative solutions by removing repetitive tasks from the employee experience so they can focus on creating delicious dishes and providing outstanding hospitality.”
With its aggressive goal of growing to 7,000 restaurants in North America, Chipotle is committed to ongoing exploration for ways to ease pain points experienced by restaurant employees as demonstrated by its recent test of Chippy, an autonomous kitchen assistant that integrates culinary traditions with artificial intelligence to make tortilla chips.
Meati Foods: A New Nutritional Ecosystem
Meati Foods, based in Boulder, CO, serves nutrient-dense whole-food products made from mushroom root. The mushroom roots used in Meati products are grown indoors year-round in an ultra-clean, pure environment that is unexposed to pollutants, pesticides, antibiotics, or growth hormones. Meati’s products are created in a way that protects and preserves our planet’s water, land, and air.
“We are excited to support new ways to bring vegetables to the center of the plate though plant-based alternative protein options that mirror Chipotle’s Food With Integrity standards,” said Garner. “Meati is producing responsibly grown plant-based protein that tastes delicious.”
“With their industry-leading commitments to sustainability and responsibly-raised ingredients, Chipotle is a likeminded leader in the movement to create sustainable food systems,” said Tyler Huggins, Co-founder and CEO of Meati Foods. “Breaking ground on the Cultivate Next venture fund is an important signal of Meati’s industry leadership potential, and new investments like this will help us scale operations and our mission-driven team.”
Plant-powered options have been a priority for Chipotle’s ongoing menu innovation over the past few years. Following a successful national launch of Cilantro-Lime Cauliflower Rice in January 2021, which resulted in an incremental sales lift while also attracting new guests, Chipotle announced it is testing Mexican Cauliflower Rice at 60 restaurants in Arizona, Southern California, and Wisconsin for a limited time.