Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) - Get Report has invested in a $500 million Series C funding round for Nuro, a service that operates a fleet of occupant-free, self-driving robotic vehicles for food delivery.
Chipotle did not specify how much it invested but said that the move was its first "significant" third-party investment since Brian Niccol took over as chief executive in 2018.
"We are always seeking opportunities that provide innovative solutions for increasing access and convenience" for customers, Chief Technology Officer Curt Garner said in a statement.
"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."
"With financial and strategic support from world-class companies like Chipotle, we can continue to advance our industry-leading autonomous technology, grow our team and expand our delivery service," Nuro co-founder and president Dave Ferguson said.
Nuro, founded 2016, is based in Mountain View, Calif. Its staff of more than 500 is focused on designing autonomous vehicles to transport goods locally.
Expanding Chipotle's digital ecosystem has been a priority under its new leadership.
The Newport Beach, Calif., company's digital business more than doubled (up 174%) in 2020 from a year earlier as the COVID lockdowns forced many people to rely on food delivery.
The company says it is exploring "disruptive opportunities" outside traditional third-party partnerships.
Chipotle has established Chipotlanes as a health and safety option amid the pandemic.
The “digital order pickup lane increases access and convenience by providing a speedy and seamless guest experience in under a minute,” Chipotle said.
They have already proven to be a success, with locations that have Chipotlanes outperforming those without the drive-through option in the fourth quarter, MarketWatch reported.
Chipotle shares at last check were up 0.2% at $1426.06.