The first roadside restaurant in Italy opened in 1947, and in subsequent years became the reflection of the country’s economic boom: the highway network, mass motor transport, and new consumption. But the Autogrill society, owned by the state group SME, came into existence only at the end of the 1970s; it was privatized almost 20 years later, in 1995. The majority shareholder became Edizione Holding, holding company of the Benetton family, which today controls Atlantia – that is, Autostrade per l’Italia – as well.
In 1999, Autogrill acquired 100% of Host Marriott Services, the American leader in food service in airports, on highways, and in large stations and shopping centers. It was added to the strong points already acquired in Spain and Great Britain, making Autogrill the leading world operator in food service for travelers. Gianmario Tondato was called on to head its activities in the U.S.; in just three years, he took the helm of the entire group. In Autogrill, two big components coexisted for years: on the one hand, service plazas—particularly in Italy—and food service in general, and on the other hand, the continually growing duty free stores. The anomaly was resolved in October 2013 with a clear division. A new title, World Duty Free, appeared on the stock market, the fruit of Autogrill’s separation of airport commercial activities (travel retail and duty free) from food service activities (food and beverage), which remain in the portfolio of the original society, quoted on the Milan stock exchange. Shortly after the division, Benetton sold around 9% of the capital of both companies on the market, in order to increase the value of part of the investment. However, it remains the majority shareholder of both the food service and duty free societies. Edizione Holding’s share fell to 50.1% in both societies.
World Duty Free generates good revenue levels; the society renegotiated its contracts in Spain (mid 2013), and aspires to win more success in new parts of the world. The same is true of Autogrill—however, aside from having to deal with the crisis in highway food service, it would like to grow in other environments in order to further diversify its geographical presence. “In 2005, the world of food service was closed,” declared Tondato during the quoting ceremony of World Duty Free. “Today, there are opportunities everywhere in developing nations, as in China. We are at the end of the crisis, with highway traffic in the European Union ceasing to deteriorate, and in America, where we have started again.”