(Bloomberg) — Dufry AG is considering a bid to acquire Italian airport retailer World Duty Free SpA as the Swiss company seeks to boost its global presence, according to people familiar with the matter.
Dufry is among companies and private-equity firms exploring a purchase of the 50.1 percent stake held by the Benetton family, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because talks are private.
Shares in World Duty Free closed 9 percent higher in Milan after a temporary trading suspension, valuing the company at about 2.4 billion euros ($2.7 billion).
Other potential bidders include Korean competitor Lotte DF Global and buyout firm KKR & Co., the people said. No final decisions by interested parties have been made and the Benetton family may decide against a sale, the people said.
World Duty Free Chief Executive Officer Eugenio Andrades said this month that the Novara, Italy based company is free to prepare for possible business combinations.
Representatives for Basel, Switzerland-based Dufry, World Duty Free and KKR declined to comment. A spokesman for Lotte said the Seoul-based company had approached World Duty Free about a possible acquisition.
Acquiring World Duty Free, which operates stores at airports including London’s Heathrow and Gatwick, would create a business with projected annual sales of about $9 billion. Dufry CEO Julian Diaz has expanded the Swiss company through about a dozen acquisitions in the past decade, creating a dominant operator in the field of travel retailing.
Travel retail sales — comprising purchases made in duty-free stores and transport hubs — are set to more than double by 2023 to as much as $100 billion, according to a report by Generation Research AB, a Swedish data analysis firm, in 2013.
Leading companies in the industry are staking their claim to a piece of the growing market, with Paris-based L’Oreal SA referring to travel retail as its “sixth continent” in its 2013 annual report. The duty-free business of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA, known as Selective Retailing, is forecast to overtake the Paris-based company’s overtake iconic fashion and leather goods as its biggest business by 2018, according to Sanford C. Bernstein estimates.
World Duty Free operates 495 stores in 19 countries and 98 airports across the world, according to its website. The Benetton family has held a controlling 50.1 percent stake since the company was spun off from Autogrill SpA and began trading independently in 2013. The family would consider reducing its stake in a combination and favors an industrial partner, though is not in active negotiations, one of the people said.
For Dufry, the potential acquisition would be its second major transaction in less than a year. The company in June agreed to buy Nuance Group for $1.7 billion. A purchase of all of World Duty Free could become Dufry’s largest acquisition ever. Dufry, which has held on-and-off talks with World Duty Free owners for years, would be able to raise financing for another acquisition and wouldn’t face insurmountable antitrust issues, one of the people said.
Dufry purchased the Hudson News chain in 2008 and has built a network of more than 1,700 shops in airports, cruise liners, ports and other tourist destinations.