Catering, the never-ending journey

Autogrill e innovazione nella ristorazione
Luca D'Alba
03 Oct 2019
Luca D’Alba, after graduating in law got a master’s degree in management. Afterwards, he started working in food retail (Pam Group) and retail in general (Unieuro). These jobs are followed by two important experiences, in Colgate Palmolive and Vodafone. From February 2014 he is based in Autogrill Italia SpA, where today is the Commercial Director. In his vast framework of marketing responsibilities, purchases, concept development, r&d, digital & CRM, and product training.

Catering, the never-ending journey

Retex. Different events are changing the catering market in the world. The progressive migration of the food outlay from the shopping cart to the out of home catering, the hybridization of supermarkets, the explosion of food delivery. Considering the sector trend on an international level, are there any Italian special characteristics that should be considered for business development?

Luca D'Alba. For the catering indeed, the fact is that the presence of chain structured brands is, in several product categories, less strong compared to other European countries and the USA. This means opportunity and some international players have, in fact, opened or are opening activities in Italy. Some small local entities are strengthening their position. The interest in private equity shows the dynamism of the sector. In the area of payments, the cash impact is very strong and goes against the required processes of store digitization. This, thanks to the order and payment at the table practices leads to a higher average expenditure compared to the traditional physical interaction between shop and customer.

Autogrill in the world

Retex. One of the most classic Italian brands, in the world. How?

Luca D'Alba. Autogrill is an Italian brand with great popularity, applied to a predominant international dimension. Today, more than half of the group’s revenues come from foreign markets, we also have partnerships with more than 300 brands worldwide. Among them, both typically global brands and strong localized entities, with specialized operativity as the airport market often requires. In our reference markets – stations, highways, airports – it is important to act with the right channel, the right product, and the right brand. We are able to do that.

Retex. What is the weight of technology in Autogrill strategies?

Luca D'Alba. The payment processes digitalization, of order and payment, is one of our strategic priorities and will allow us to allocate more funds to the customer. Always thanks to appropriate technology strategies will be possible for us, for example, to take action on every stage of the airport stop, from the shortest to the longest one. This to guarantee to the traveler his meal in time and in the right way, from the check-in to the boarding gate.

Street food

Retex. Food delivery services have entered the phase of consolidation: merger & acquisition operations and the most different kind of partnerships between operators are, anyhow, famous arguments in these months. Is it a relevant event also for your typical business?

Luca D'Alba. The impact on Autogrill’s business is still limited. If it is true that, in the evening time zone, the possibility to receive dinner directly at home can discourage the stop at the service area, it is also true that this request of service is, for now, limited to metropolitan areas. I think that Milan, today, covers 70% of the national request. To determine corrects comparison and competition parameters, we should wait for the final balances of that kind of service. The “now and free” delivery go heavily against profitability, logistics processes must be adjusted, because of that, there is already someone who had to give up. Without talking, then, of workers management and the security. We could talk again about this when the area will be more structured.

Innovation, not for everyone

The digital innovation in Italy is making progress also in distribution and catering, even though slower than in other countries. Why?

Luca D'Alba.We know the chronic cultural limits of the country, but for the economic structure that characterizes it, there is an objective fact that cannot be neglected. To be effective also where the comparison is frightening, for example, the 24 hours delivery with a competitive price, the investment size is crucial. They are also unaffordable for most of the sector companies. In our country, there are many middle and small entities, with interesting values, that can’t afford this investment and then benefit the payback in a reasonable time.

The never-ending journey

Retex. Where is the catering going?

Luca D'Alba. To the indefinable experience of consumption limits, sought or randomly found by the customer. The food quality is the necessary condition to join the race, but the crucial elements are the environment, the service, the kind of recruitment and the customization of the relationship. In a highly competitive context that leads the customer to consciousness and selectivity more and more strong. The digitalization is surely an essential way, but its role will be more effective and less intrusive. Who will succeed to use it implementing new endorsements and new normality, will win the game.