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Chipotle is doubling its Cultivate Next venture fund to $100 million.

Chipotle doubles its venture fund to pursue more startup partnerships

Chipotle’s Cultivate Next Fund has been doubled to $100 million to pursue new partnerships in supply chain, agriculture, automation, and more.

Chipotle’s $50 million Cultivate Next venture fund, launched in early 2022, seems to be paying off so much that the company is now doubling down on the idea. Chipotle today announced it is increasing its venture fund by an additional $50 million, for a total of $100 million earmarked to pursue new investments in supply chain, agriculture, restaurant innovation, automation, and other areas.

The intention of Cultivate Next is to make early-stage investments into what Chipotle calls “strategically aligned companies” that further its mission to “Cultivate a Better World.” The companies are also considered for their value-add as Chipotle aims to double its footprint to 7,000 restaurants in North America in the coming years.

The initial $50 million fund to date has included investments in Local Line, GreenField Robotics, Nitricity, Vebu, Hyphen, Meati, and Zero Acre Farms. As the company infuses $50 million more into the fund, it has made additional investments in two of those companies: Local Line, a local food sourcing platform for regional food systems that helps farms, producers, food hubs and food buyers digitize their operations and sell products, and Hyphen, which is co-creating Chipotle’s new automated digital makeline to build bowls and salads.

With its added investment, Chipotle plans to leverage Local Line to fund grants to local farms within 350 miles of its new restaurants. And, with Hyphen, Chipotle is moving through its stage-gate process to bring the automated makeline into a single restaurant this year, from its test inside the company’s Cultivate Center in Irvine, Calif. According to the company, approximately 65% of all digital orders are bowls and salads, so the makeline has the potential to free up more time for employees to make other orders.  

The company’s existing Cultivate Next portfolio also includes GreenField Robotics, which was founded to make regenerative farming more efficient by leveraging autonomous robots to weed crops all day; Nitricity, which creates environmentally friendly fertilizer products; Meati, which creates food products made from MushroomRoot; Zero Acre Farms, which has introduced oils and fats made by a fermentation process that is more environmentally friendly; and Vebu, which has created an automated avocado processing system, the Autocado, which is currently in Chipotle’s stage-gate process and will undergo an operational test in a single restaurant this spring.

“Our decision to double our commitment to our Cultivate Next venture fund is a clear indicator that we are investing in the right companies that we can learn from and utilize to improve the human experience of our restaurant teams, farmers, and suppliers,” Curt Garner, Chipotle’s chief customer and technology officer, said in a statement. “The parallel growth of Chipotle and our partners will continue to further our mission to Cultivate a Better World by increasing access to real food.”

During the company’s most recent earnings call earlier this month, CEO Brian Niccol said the amount of innovation since launching the Cultivate Next fund has surpassed expectations. The company has considered “hundreds” of companies but has made its investments in these companies because of their potential for commercial engagement. He added that some of these innovations, like Hyphen and Autocado, could remove less favorable tasks for team members, supporting accuracy and throughput efforts.

Contact Alicia Kelso at [email protected]

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