Chipotle invests in Hyphen robotics platform, plant-based Meati

Funding completed through $50M Cultivate Next venture fund

Chipotle Mexican Grill invested in Hyphen, a robotics foodservice platform to automate kitchen operations and Meati Foods, a producer of mushroom root-based clean, plant-based protein. Both investments are financed through Chipotle’s Cultivate Next, a $50M venture fund.

The Newport Beach, Calif.-based restaurant company says the fund will reflect Chipotle’s people-first culture and mission to cultivate a better world. Investments will align with opportunities that “elevate the human experience for its teams as well as increase access and convenience for its guests.”

Hyphen

With regard to San Jose, Calif.-based Hyphen, it is aiming to make kitchens move faster, but without a dent to quality, accuracy or hospitality. Hyphen’s first product, The Makeline, uses advanced robotics and a customized operating system to speed up processes in making and fulfilling orders. While staff fulfills in-house orders from the top of the counter, Makeline is busy fulfilling digital orders under 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.”

Tiger Global and existing strategic investors also participated in Hyphen’s latest round of financing.

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A recent test of Chippy, an autonomous tortilla maker backed by artificial intelligence, shows how Chipotle executives continue to eye technology to reduce pain points at its restaurants. The fast casual’s adoption is critical as it eyes growth to 7,000 restaurants in North America.

“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 chief executive 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

Meati Foods’ nutrient-dense whole-food products made from mushroom root are an ideal source of protein and nutrition. Its mushroom roots grow indoors year-round in an ultra-clean, pure environment that is unexposed to pollutants, pesticides, antibiotics, or growth hormones, the company points out. Per Meati, its products “created in a way that protects and preserves our planet’s water, land, and air.”

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The company raised $150M in its Series C funding round, led by Revolution Growth, with participation from existing and new investors, including Grosvenor Food & AgTech, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPP Investments), Wellington Management, and Cultivate Next.

“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.”

Based in Boulder, Colo. Meati Foods aligns with Chipotle’s recent menu launches. It successfully rolled out Cilantro-Lime Cauliflower Rice in 2021 as a result of its vetting through the stage-gate testing process, lifting sales while bringing in new guests. This year, Chipotle announced a 60-restaurant test of Mexican Cauliflower Rice in the Arizona, Southern California, and Wisconsin

“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 chief executive 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.

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