Chipotle Mexican Grill has invested in a self-driving, robotic delivery company, the fast casual announced Thursday.
Chipotle participated in a Series C funding round for Nuro, a Mountain View, Calif.-based company that was founded in 2016. Today, Nuro operates a robotic fleet of “on-road, occupantless and autonomous vehicles to deliver everyday consumer goods,” Chipotle said in a statement.
The pandemic has accelerated digital usage and tech adoption at restaurants of all sizes. Chipotle saw its digital business grow 174% in 2020, compared to the prior year, with about half of those digital sales coming from delivery.
The investment in Nuro is part of the chain’s exploration of “disruptive opportunities outside of traditional third-party partnerships,” Chipotle said.
"We are always seeking opportunities that provide innovative solutions for increasing access and convenience for our guests," said Curt Garner, Chipotle’s chief technology officer. "Nuro could change the traditional delivery model and we believe consumers are going to continue to seek options and additional access points for how and where they enjoy their food."
Chipotle joins a growing number of restaurant brands that have made recent investments in tech companies.
Yum Brands, owner of Taco Bell and KFC, has purchased two marketing technology companies this month.
McDonald’s acquired artificial intelligence company Dynamic Yield for $300 million in 2019, paving the way for restaurant chains to make such investments. McDonald’s has added Dynamic Yield technology to its drive-thrus, but is thinking of selling at least part of the tech company.
Chipotle’s investment in Nuro is the chain’s first “significant” backing of third-party technology company since Brian Niccol took over as CEO in 2018, the chain said.
Late last year, Nuro secured the first and only deployment permit from the California Department of Motor Vehicles, allowing the company’s driverless cars to operate commercially on roads in two counties near the Bay Area.