Chipotle’s two latest investments from its Cultivate Next venture fund include a regenerative farming company that leverages robotics and AI, and a more sustainable fertilizer company. The chain announced the investments Wednesday, including Cheney, Kansas-based Greenfield Robotics, which was founded in 2017 and deploys autonomous robots to fields all day and night, helping farmers by manually removing weeds and reducing the reliance on chemicals to do so. This supports regenerative farming practices and reduces risk for farmers, according to the company.
Greenfield will use the funds to develop other autonomous robots for agricultural work, such as soil testing, cover crop planting and micro-spraying.
"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," Curt Garner, Chipotle’s chief customer and technology officer, said in a statement. "We will help Greenfield Robotics scale their robotic offerings and explore how their robots can be deployed on farms within our supply chain."
Chipotle also invested in Fremont, California-based Nitricity, which was founded in 2018 with a mission of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by creating “new age” fertilizer products; the company leverages air, water, and renewable energy from artificial lightning to produce a more sustainable and cost-efficient fertilizer. The company said the product has five to 10 times less greenhouse gas emissions due to its electrified production and field application process.
Nitricity is also building its production model of fertilizer on or near its end customers to limit the emissions from fertilizer distribution and application and has started field trials for their fertilizer product with Salinas Valley farmers, including Chipotle suppliers. Currently, up to 20% of fertilizer in the U.S. is imported through an expensive and complex supply chain, the company said. The company, which also raised $20 million last year, has started field trials for its fertilizer product with Salinas Valley farmers, including Chipotle suppliers, and will use the Cultivate Next funding to scale its production, build out its infrastructure and launch its first commercial product in the next two years.
"Fertilizers have experienced steep price increases in recent years due to supply chain issues, fossil fuel price volatility, and rising distribution costs. Nitricity's fertilizer offering not only has the potential to reduce the carbon footprint of the fertilizer industry, but it can be a cost-effective solution for growers in our supply chain,” Chipotle CFO Jack Hartung said in a statement.
Chipotle’s $50 million Cultivate Next venture fund was created in April 2022 to make early-stage investments into “strategically aligned” companies to accelerate Chipotle's strategic priorities. Investments thus far have included foodservice platform Hyphen, which is now in test to automate the makeline for bowls and salads, and plant-based protein company Meati Foods.
Contact Alicia Kelso at [email protected]