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07/21/2022

Chipotle invests in kitchen automation, plant-based meat alternative

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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Chipotle
Chipotle’s Cultivate Next fund is investing in companies including kitchen robotics firm Hyphen.

Chipotle Mexican Grill is making the first two investments from its new Cultivate Next venture fund.

Announced in April 2022, Cultivate Next is intended to support seed-to-Series B stage companies that focus on increasing technology and innovation in restaurant operations and align with Chipotle’s mission to “Cultivate a Better World.” The fund has an initial size of $50 million and is financed solely by Chipotle. 

Following are brief overviews of the two companies Cultivate Next is initially funding.

Hyphen
Based in San Jose, Calif., Hyphen’s first product, The Makeline, is an automated system that utilizes advanced robotics and a customized operating system to give kitchens a reliable and precise way to make and fulfill orders. The Makeline assembles all digital orders under the counter via automated production, enabling staff to assemble in-house orders from the top of the counter.

Outside of Cultivate Next, Chipotle has also taken an interest in robotics. The company recently began testing an artificially intelligent robot, Chippy, to cook its tortilla chips. Also, in March 2021, the company invested in autonomous delivery company Nuro as part of the self-driving technology company’s Series C funding round.

"Hyphen is reimagining the intersection between makelines and digital kitchens, with a focus on improving speed and order accuracy," said Curt Garner, CTO at Chipotle. "Their use of robotics to enhance the employee and customer 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."

Meati Foods
Meati Foods, based in Boulder, Colo., develops 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. 

"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 like-minded 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."

Chipotle will continue to provide more updates on the Cultivate Next venture fund leading into 2023. In addition to companies focused on robotics and alternative protein sources, Chipotle says it also may invest in firms involved in creating innovations in areas such as farming and supply chain.

Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. had over 3,000 restaurants as of March 31, 2022, in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France and Germany, and is the only restaurant company of its size that owns and operates all its stores.