In the 1960s, General Motors revolutionized its automobile assembly lines with automated robotic arms. Now, a wave of tech innovation is coming to the most critical assembly line of the 21st century: the burrito line.
On Tuesday, Chipotle announced a $50 million venture fund as a vehicle for investing in food service technology startups.
Quesadillas Ex Machina
Dubbed Cultivate Next and managed by company CTO Curt Garner, the fund will target tech startups in the early “seed to Series B” stages of their life cycles, and could touch every piece of the burrito pipeline, from agriculture to ingredient tracing and tracking to point-of-sale systems.
While Chipotle’s embrace of tech is hardly beating competitors to the soda fountain fruit punch — with every quick-service restaurant, from Starbucks to Yum Brands’ Taco Bell and KFC investing in tech such as digital ordering and AI-powered customer relationship platforms — the popular Mexican chain boasts a long history of experimenting with new-age solutions:
- In March, Chipotle introduced the tortilla chip-producing ‘Chippy’, an AI-driven kitchen assistant created by food-service automation startup Miso Robotics. Last year, Chipotle invested in Nuro, a startup commanding a fleet of delivery robots.
- Of chief importance (and on the significantly less flashy sci-fi side), Chipotle tripled down on its app and online order capabilities, with the option now routinely accounting for roughly 50% of all sales. In December, the chain opened its first takeout-only digital ghost kitchen in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.
The Robot Revolution: Like it or not, restaurants are increasingly replacing human workers. A 2020 report from restaurant consultancy Aaron Allen & Associates projects over 80% of restaurant jobs could eventually be automated. While a robot cook is a lot less likely to slip you a free serving of guac, here’s hoping AI can finally help Chipotle crack the code for tasty queso.