NEWPORT BEACH, CALIF. — Chipotle Mexican Grill recently announced that it is testing radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology to improve traceability and inventory systems at its Chicago distribution center and approximately 200 restaurants in the greater Chicago area.

The fast-casual restaurant chain said it is one of the first major restaurants to use RFID case labels to track ingredients from suppliers to restaurants.

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

Chipotle said it worked closely with Auburn University’s RFID lab to refine the pilot program, which is being tested on meat, dairy and avocados from five Chipotle suppliers. 

Ingredients in the test arrived at Chipotle restaurants with RFID-enabled labels and are scanned by RFID readers, which complement existing scanners in the restaurants, requiring minimal incremental investment.

The company said participating suppliers invested in RFID technology using Chipotle specifications. Benefits are expected to include saving suppliers time managing inventory and stock rotation, while mitigating human error and increasing expiration date visibility and accountability. 

Key suppliers participated in the test and provided partners with guidelines for RFID best practices and the benefits of the program. 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 program for two years and see this innovation as the next evolution of traceability and food safety,” said Laurie Schalow, chief corporate affairs and food safety officer at Chipotle. “We are excited to test this innovation in the field with our suppliers and restaurants to enhance our robust traceability program.”

Chipotle teamed with RFID software provider Mojix, materials science and RFID innovator Avery Dennison, and RFID reader and encoder solutions provider Zebra Technologies.