First it was tortilla chips. Now, Chipotle is testing an “avocado processing cobotic” prototype that can cut, core, and peel avocadoes before they’re hand mashed into guacamole. Called “Autocado,” the model was developed in collaboration with Vebu, a product development company based out of El Segundo, California, and is currently being piloted in Chipotle’s Cultivate Center in Irvine.

In addition, Chipotle will invest in Vebu as part of the brand’s Cultivate Next $50 million venture fund. Other early stage deals thus far include Hyphen and its automated makeline technology and Zero Acre Farms, a food company focused on healthy, sustainable oils and fats. Chipotle is also piloting Chippy, an autonomous kitchen assistant that uses AI to make tortilla chips, in a Fountain Valley, California, unit. That technology is a partnership with Miso Robotics.

With “Autocado,” Vebu worked with certified training managers at Chipotle locations to analyze preparation processes and identify time-consuming tasks, as well as those employees didn’t rate highly. Presently, Chipotle dedicates specific crew members to cutting, coring, and scooping avocados—on average, it takes about 50 minutes to make a batch of guacamole, the company said.

Here, an employee loads Autocado with a full case of avocados and selects the size setting. It can hold up to 25 pounds of avocados.


One by one, avocados are then vertically oriented and transferred to the processing devices. Avocados are sliced in half, cores and skin automatically removed, and waste discarded. The fruit is then collected in a stainless-steel bowl in the bottom of the device.

Lastly, a crew member removes the bowl and moves it to the counter where they add more ingredients and hand mash the avocados to make Chipotle’s guacamole.

“We are committed to exploring collaborative robotics to drive efficiencies and ease pain points for our employees,” said Curt Garner, chief customer and technology officer at Chipotle, in a statement. “The intensive labor of cutting, coring, and scooping avocados could be relieved with Autocado, but we still maintain the essential culinary experience of hand mashing and hand preparing the guacamole to our exacting standards.”

Vebu noted it’s still working to improve the device’s processing speeds. Ultimately, the goal would be to reduce guacamole prep time by 50 percent, which would allow Chipotle employees to focus instead on serving guests and providing face-to-face hospitality. Across the U.S., Canada, and Europe, Chipotle expects to use roughly 4.5 million cases of avocados this year, or some 100 million pounds of fruit.

Autocado added it’s aiming to increase avocado fruit yield through precision processes, a controlled plan that would lead to “millions of dollars” in annual food cost savings if the cobot is successfully developed and deployed widely.

“Our purpose as a robotic company is to leverage automation technology to give workers more flexibility in their day-to-day work,” Buck Jordan, CEO of Vebu, said in a statement. “Autocado has the potential to work alongside Chipotle crew members to create the same, delicious guacamole that Chipotle fans love but more efficiently than ever before.” 

Furthermore, Vebu is developing an artificial and machine learning stack to be connected to its robotic solutions, where applicable. So future iterations of Autocaco could use machine learning and sensor fusion to evaluation the quality of the avocados and quantify waste reduction as well as improve efficiency of cutting, coring, and peeling. 

To Garner’s larger point, Chipotle’s efforts with automation are multi-tiered and ongoing. “Chippy” was first announced in March 2022 and uses AI to replicate the brand’s recipe—corn masa flour, water, and sunflower oil—to cook chips, season with salt, and finish with a hint of lime juice. Like Autocado, it began at Chitpole’s Cultivate Center innovation hub before heading into the field. The chain previously dipped into AI with its concierge chat bot, “Pepper,” which went live on its app and website and fields questions from guests.

Hyphen’s, “The Makeline,” announced by Chipotle last July, is an automated system that uses robotics and a customized operating system to give kitchens a “reliable and precise way to make a fulfill orders,” Chipotle said. The hallmark is it assembles all digital orders under the counter via automated production while allowing staff to assemble in-house orders from the top of the counter.

READ MORE: Chipotle Gets Back to “Project Square One”

Likely, it will arrive mostly in new builds for Chipotle since it’s easier to implement. Yet the brand is designing the technology (one of the benefits behind investing in it) so that it will work within current stores as well.

Chipotle overall continues to navigate changing labor dynamics. Its hourly turnover rates in 2022 came in at 193 percent after 194 percent the year before. CEO Brian Niccol said in Q1 the brand was working on labor deployment adjustments to improve throughput. Chipotle implemented “Project Square One” roughly a year ago to retrench on getting back to basics. For instance, making sure it’s focused on ensuring the digital make line remains open from start to close each day, and ingredients are available throughout the full shift. Then, working to staff and train to “get people down the line really fast with exactly what they want,” Niccol said.

Labor has been improving, however. Niccol noted Q1 was “another outstanding quarter for turnover,” with hourly and salary metrics “being some of the best I’ve seen in five years.”

“The stability of crew and managers and a return to shoulder-to-shoulder training is helping to translate Project Square One into results,” he said. “… Both of those reasons that we’ve improved dramatically are driven by, I think, more stability in the restaurant with better training and then holding people accountable to those standards.”

Chipotle’s rate of internal promotion was 90 percent last year, carrying over similar results from previous years. The brand also said it planned to soon introduce new clamshell grills into 10 restaurants. Tests showed a more consistent product. But equally notable, cooking times dropped dramatically. Chicken, for instance, went from 12–13 minutes to 2–3 minutes.

“So, all these things are driving toward hopefully better guest experiences, but also a better work environment for employees,” Niccol said. 

Same-store sales lifted 10.9 percent, year-over-year in Q1 as total revenue increased 17.2 percent to $2.4 billion.

Fast Casual, Menu Innovations, Story, Technology