MILAN, June 6 Italy's Autogrill, will split its travel retail and duty free unit from its roadside restaurant chain and list the former by October, paving the way for tie-ups at both companies.
Autogrill, whose catering business has been badly hit by reduced motorway traffic during the recession, said the split would enable it to better sound out market opportunities.
"Each company will have its own life - both independent, both good," Autogrill chairman Gilberto Benetton said at a shareholder meeting on Thursday which approved the demerger.
"Now we can go and sound out the opportunities the market can offer in either of our two fields, not only in retail but also the catering business," he said after the meeting.
Autogrill, whose motorway restaurants were once an habitual stop-off for Italian families on day trips, reported a first-quarter net loss of 31.2 million euros. The company currently has net debt of 1.8 billion euros ($2.4 billion).
Autogrill's duty free business has grown on the back of acquisitions in recent years and now runs shops at 26 Spanish airports owned by public operator Aena. Analysts suggest the company, to be called World Duty Free after the split, could be a good fit for a tie-up with a company such as Switzerland's Dufry.
Shares in Autogrill closed down 1.54 percent at 9.88 euros ($13.04) on Thursday, outperforming a 2.6 percent decline in the Milan blue chip index. ($1 = 0.7579 euros) (Reporting By Isla Binnie; Editing by Sophie Walker)