On Tuesday, Chipotle Mexican Grill made a groundbreaking announcement about its new venture into the realm of automated food assembly. Collaborating with Hyphen, a renowned food service platform, the burrito chain aims to implement an automated digital assembly line primarily focused on digital orders. Here’s how it is envisioned to work:
- Primary Assembly: An employee will still be at the helm of assembling burritos, tacos, and quesadillas.
- Underneath the Digital Make Line: The automated system takes charge. It will meticulously create salads and burrito bowls. Each bowl will be positioned perfectly under the designated ingredients, ensuring precise portioning—guaranteeing, for instance, the perfect amount of salsa to maintain the desired flavor balance without overdoing it.
Driving Factors Behind the Decision
The recent surge in digital sales during the pandemic was a critical factor in this strategic move. Curt Garner, Chipotle’s chief customer and technology officer, elucidated to Yahoo Finance that the sharp rise in digital sales signaled a need to enhance the efficiency of their digital line. Some statistics that shed light on this trend include:
- Digital bowls and salads represent 65% of all Chipotle digital orders.
- In the last quarter, digital sales accounted for 38% of the total food and beverage revenue, a whopping $2.5 billion.
The partnership with Hyphen isn’t new. In 2022, Chipotle collaborated with Hyphen, funneling their efforts into what we now recognize as the automated burrito bowl initiative. This endeavor is a fragment of the expansive $50 million “Cultivate Next” venture fund. Introduced in April 2022, its primary focus is to turbocharge growth through technological innovations and investments.
Other Robotic Ventures
Chipotle’s fascination with robots isn’t limited to the digital assembly line:
- Autocado: A robot that streamlines the process of making guacamole by cutting, coring, and peeling avocados. The mashed consistency, however, is maintained by human touch.
- Chippy: Designed specifically for crafting tortilla chips.
Garner emphasized the idea of having these technologies complement one another. The final decision—whether these robots will be placed in a single restaurant or distributed across multiple locations—is still under discussion.
However, amidst all the technological advancements, Garner insists that the human touch remains irreplaceable. He believes that the most effective solutions are those that blend technology with human interactions to optimize experiences for both employees and diners.
Financial Implications and Future Projections
While the idea of automation in restaurants sounds enticing, it does come with a hefty price tag. Sean Dunlop, an analyst from Morningstar, highlighted the potential expenses involved, hinting that the high costs might be a reason why some of these projects, like Chippy, are yet to see a full-fledged rollout.
Comparatively, Sweetgreen, a fast-casual counterpart, has been reaping benefits from its first automated production line, “Infinite Kitchen.” Their margins have skyrocketed to 26%, a figure considerably higher than any new restaurant’s inaugural month earnings.
Diving Deeper: How Does It Function?
All Chipotle outlets are designed with two make lines. While one caters to in-person diners, the other is dedicated to digital orders. The Hyphen robot will cater exclusively to digital orders for burrito bowls and salads. Here’s a step-by-step breakdown:
- The robot positions the bowls underneath the digital make line.
- Ingredients are dispensed in the correct proportions.
- Simultaneously, an employee assembles digital orders for other items.
- Upon completion, the robot raises the order to the surface for final packaging by the staff.
Digital Order Dynamics
Digital orders have become more versatile. Customers can now place their orders via the Chipotle app, the company’s website, or even third-party platforms. If the order contains a burrito bowl or salad, the Hyphen system is immediately activated.
Once prepared, the bowl or salad is elevated to the top makeline. The final touch includes a Chipotle staff member placing a lid and adding sides like chips, salsas, or guacamole. These completed orders are then systematically arranged in designated pick-up areas.
The overarching goal behind these innovations is clear: to enhance the dining experience. Chipotle’s partnership with Hyphen and its investment in automation reiterates its commitment to amalgamating robotics with human potential, ensuring an unparalleled dining experience. However, only time will reveal the true potential and efficiency of these systems in a real-world scenario.