Chipotle testing RFID technology for inventory tracking

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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Chipotle testing RFID tech
Chipotle is piloting RFID in its supply chain.

Chipotle Mexican Grill is testing RFID technology to enhance its traceability and inventory systems in a specific geographic region.

Working closely with the Auburn University RFID Lab, the quick-service retailer is running the RFID pilot at its Chicago distribution center and approximately 200 restaurants in the greater Chicago area. Chipotle is specifically leveraging RFID case labels to track ingredients from suppliers to restaurants via serialization. Other notable retail industry RFID initiatives being run in cooperation with Auburn University include an ongoing RFID-tagging project at Walmart.

In addition to enhancing food safety, RFID tracking of ingredients also provides further transparency into the direct source of Chipotle’s ingredients. This supports the company’s efforts to utilize locally grown produce and buy responsibly sourced and humanely raised ingredients.

The company is testing the effectiveness of RFID tracking on meat, dairy, and avocados from five of its suppliers. Ingredients in the pilots arrive at Chipotle restaurants affixed with RFID-enabled case labels and are scanned by RFID readers, which complement existing scanners. The RFID-enabled traceability system is designed to allow the company to act on food safety and quality concerns swiftly, efficiently, and precisely.

Participating suppliers have invested in RFID technology using Chipotle specifications. Chipotle invited key supply partners to participate in the test and provided partners with an RFID playbook with best practices and benefits of the program. The brand is leveraging the pilot to test, listen and learn from employees and suppliers before deciding on a system-wide rollout of RFID labels. 

As part of the pilot, Chipotle is also working with RFID software provider Mojix, materials science and RFID company Avery Dennison, and RFID reader and encoder solutions provider Zebra Technologies.

"We have been developing our RFID program for two years and see this innovation as the next evolution of traceability and food safety," said Laurie Schalow, Chipotle chief corporate affairs and food safety officer. "We are excited to test this innovation in the field with our suppliers and restaurants to enhance our robust traceability program." 

“RFID labels transform inventory management into an automatic, digital function that optimizes restaurant operations and gives our restaurant support centers access to inventory data in real-time," said Scott Boatwright, chief restaurant officer. "This integrated technology is improving our employee experience in participating restaurants while also benefiting our supply partners." 

RFID – has its time come?
According to “RFID-Powered Solutions: More Attainable Than Ever,” a recent study from Cambridge Retail Advisors sponsored by Sensormatic by Johnson Controls, retail has reached an inflection point for RFID. Cambridge Retail Advisors (CRA) suggests that the average cost of labor at retail companies and the increasing value attached to inventory visibility and availability has created a new justification for retail RFID implementations.

Among the uses for RFID cited by the report are increasing accuracy in the inventory data that feeds merchandising and planning tools to minimize out-of-stock positions, as well as improving the accuracy and efficiency of inventory receiving and making cycle counting more productive.

Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. had over 2,850 restaurants as of June 30, 2021, in the U.S., Canada, U.K., France, and Germany, and is the only restaurant company of its size that owns and operates all its restaurants.