- Chipotle Mexican Grill on Wednesday said it has invested in a manufacturer of autonomous farming robots as the restaurant chain looks to advance regenerative agriculture practices throughout its supply chain.
- The minority investment in Greenfield Robotics will help the startup scale its fleet of autonomous bots, which roam farms, cut weeds, plant cover crops and add nutrients.
- Chipotle also disclosed another minority investment in Nitricity, which uses solar electricity to produce nitrogen fertilizer. Both investments were made under the chain's $50 million Cultivate Next venture fund.
Chipotle has bet big on automation as a means to fuel growth, and is beginning to fill out its restaurants with robots. Now it looks to do the same on its farms.
Kansas-based Greenfield Robotics replaces the labor needed to maintain crops without the use of fertilizer or pesticides. While practices like planting cover crops and cutting weeds can reduce reliance on chemicals, it is often labor-intensive and expensive.
Chipotle's investment will help Greenfield develop new capabilities for its bots, including micro-spraying and soil testing. Chipotle said it is exploring how the robots can be deployed throughout its supply chain.
"The work of Greenfield Robotics to build out a tech forward alternative to herbicides plays an important role in ensuring a more sustainable future for the agricultural industry," Chipotle's Chief Customer and Technology Officer Curt Garner said in the announcement.
The restaurant chain's partnership with Nitricity, meanwhile, has already begun. The startup is testing its sustainable fertilizer manufacturing process with lettuce growers in California's Salinas Valley.
Nitricity builds solar-powered facilities on or near farms, using artificial lighting to break down nitrogen in the air. Its electrified manufacturing process produces up to 10 times less greenhouse gas emissions than traditional methods.
The startup will use Chipotle's investment to further build out company infrastructure and support the launch of its first commercial product within the next two years.
"Nitricity is committed to producing fertilizer that is optimized for farmers, not factory production or freight distribution," Nico Pinkowski, co-founder and CEO of Nitricity, said in a statement. "Partnering with Chipotle will unquestionably accelerate our path toward disrupting the industry with climate-smart technology."