Chipotle tests RFID tracing at 200 restaurants

  • April 11, 2022
  • Steve Rogerson

Chipotle Mexican Grill is testing RFID technology to enhance its traceability and inventory systems at its Chicago distribution centre and 200 restaurants in the greater Chicago area.

Chipotle is one of the first major restaurant companies to leverage RFID case labels to track ingredients from suppliers to restaurants via serialisation.

“RFID labels transform inventory management into an automatic, digital function that optimises restaurant operations and gives our restaurant support centres access to inventory data in real time,” said Scott Boatwright, Chipotle’s chief restaurant officer. “This integrated technology is improving our employee experience in participating restaurants while also benefiting our supply partners.”

Chipotle purchased more than 16 million kilograms of locally grown produce in 2021 and has spent more than $400m in food premiums over the past two years to buy responsibly sourced and humanely raised ingredients. The brand is giving further transparency into the direct source of its ingredients.

The company has worked closely with the Auburn University RFID Lab to refine the pilot programme, which is being tested on meat, dairy and avocados from five Chipotle suppliers. Ingredients in the test arrive at the restaurants affixed with RFID enabled case labels and are scanned by RFID readers, which complement existing scanners in the restaurants, requiring little incremental investment. The traceability system is designed to allow the company to act on food safety and quality concerns swiftly, efficiently and precisely.

Participating suppliers have invested in RFID technology using Chipotle specifications, which is anticipated to save suppliers time on inventory management and stock rotation, mitigate human error, and increase expiration date visibility and accountability. Chipotle invited supply partners to participate in the test and provided them with an RFID playbook with best practices and benefits of the programme. The brand is leveraging its stage-gate process to test, listen and learn from employees and suppliers before deciding on a system-wide rollout of RFID labels.

“We have been developing our RFID programme for two years and see this innovation as the next evolution of traceability and food safety,” said Laurie Schalow, Chipotle’s chief corporate affairs officer. “We are excited to test this innovation in the field with our suppliers and restaurants to enhance our robust traceability programme.” 

Chipotle teamed up with RFID partners including software firm Mojix, materials science and RFID innovator Avery Dennison, and RFID reader and encoder provider Zebra Technologies.

Chipotle has over 2950 restaurants in the USA, Canada, UK, France and Germany, and is said to be the only restaurant company of its size that owns and operates all its restaurants.