NEWPORT BEACH, Calif.—Chipotle Mexican Grill announced it is investing in Hyphen, an automated kitchen company, and Meati Foods, a plant-based protein company, as part of its Cultivate Next venture fund. In April, Chipotle created a $50 million venture fund to invest in “strategically aligned companies” seeking series B stage funding and said it’s “seeking opportunities that will elevate the human experience for its teams as well as increase access and convenience for its guests.”
Hyphen is a foodservice platform designed to help restaurant owners, operators and chefs move their business forward by automating kitchen operations. The company's first product, The Makeline, is an automated system that utilizes advanced robotics and a customized operating system 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."
With its aggressive goal of growing to 7,000 restaurants in North America, Chipotle is looking for ways to ease pain points experienced by restaurant employees, as demonstrated by its recent test of CHIPPY, an autonomous kitchen assistant that makes tortilla chips.
Meati Foods is focused on using proprietary, clean processes to provide nutritious, complete proteins 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."
Chipotle says plant-based options have been a priority for the fast-casual chain over the past few years. Following a 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 was testing Mexican Cauliflower Rice at 60 restaurants in Arizona, Southern California and Wisconsin for a limited time.
Fast-casual restaurants flourished during the pandemic by leaning in on the tools that were already part of their business model to effectively reach their customer—think digital ordering, loyalty, pickup and drive-thrus. Chipotle grew its loyalty program considerably during the pandemic. Before COVID-19, Chipotle had fewer than 10 million rewards members, and by December 2021, there were 24.5 million.