Companies like Chipotle are boosting prices, but CEOs multimillion dollar pay packages aren’t getting any smaller

Chipotle workers

Chipotle raised prices across the menu by about 4% in June, a move the company says was prompted by increased wages for workers.

The average Chipotle meal will cost 30 to 40 cents more than it did before, and a spokesperson told Insider that the price hike will compensate for the recent wage increases for workers. In April, the fast casual chain said it would raise average hourly wages to $15 per hour by the end of June, an increase of $2 over the $13 an hour average pay.

While Chipotle attributes raising menu prices to the growing price of labor, some analysts point to high CEO compensation as another factor. In 2020 CEO Brian Niccol took home $38 million, $1.24 million of which was his base salary. The rest was made up of other incentives and an annual bonus.

“Brian Niccol ‘s annual compensation package is based on a competitive analysis of CEO pay levels within our peer group and is designed to pay for performance,” a Chipotle spokesperson told Newsweek when the pay report was released.

Niccol ‘s compensation was 2,898 times more than the median Chipotle worker’s $13,127 salary in 2020, based on an employee working 25 hours a week in Illinois. Companies are required to disclose the ratio of CEO pay to the pay of a median employee. At Chipotle, that ratio is 1,129 to one. Across the board, the pay ratio of CEOs to workers averaged 830 to 1 in 2020, according to the Institute for Policy Studies.

Higher labor costs do eventually lead to higher prices for customers, but experts say the difference isn’t as stark as some might expect. A study from California State University San Bernardino found that for a minimum wage increase of 10%, food prices increase by just 0.36%.

According to Chipotle’s proxy statement, executive compensation is aimed at maintaining “a level where we can successfully recruit and retain industry leading talent critical to shaping and executing our business strategy and creating long-term value for our shareholders.”

“For 2020, Brian’s compensation includes the value of a one-time modification that is not reflective of his ongoing pay package,” a Chipotle spokesperson told Newsweek. Niccol made $33.5 million in 2019, an increase of about 13%.

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In 2020, Chipotle’s revenue grew 7.1% to $6 billion, with much of the growth attributed to an explosion in digital sales. In a year that was disastrous for many restaurants, Chipotle opened 161 new locations, expanded its Chipotlane drive-thru footprint, and stock prices increased 65.7%.

The distance between worker and CEO pay grew wider than ever during the pandemic of the past year, The New York Times reported. The largest CEO compensation packages are for tech company executives. Chipotle does stand out among fast food and fast casual restaurant compensation, though. Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson took home $14.7 million. McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski received $10.8 million.

Critics of sky-high CEO pay, like the Economic Policy Institute, say the enormous compensation packages are “a major contributor to rising inequality that we could safely do away with.”

“This escalation of CEO compensation, and of executive compensation more generally, has fueled the growth of top 1.0% and top 0.1% incomes, leaving less of the fruits of economic growth for ordinary workers, ” EPI said in a report released last year.

Labor costs might have increased for restaurants over the last year, but so did the price of ingredients. Staple Chipotle items, like corn and avocados, grew more expensive this year as demand rose and shipping delays drove prices further up.

“Ingredient costs, there’s talk about it. We’ll see where that leads,” Chipotle CFO Jack Hartung said at the Baird Global Consumer, Technology & Services Conference. The company says there are no plans to further increase prices right now.

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