Le burger and fries meet the road in rural France

South Dakota State Roundup

Published April 1, 1998  | April 1998 issue

Building on the popularity of American foods with time-short foreign consumers, Orion Food Systems Inc. of Sioux Falls has expanded its fast food concepts to Europe, Great Britain and Canada, using a unique concept in France.

Of the 300 or so exporters in South Dakota, it is unlikely that any has been quite as bold as Orion to take on the French palate, including such offerings as pizza, submarine sandwiches, and burgers and fries to motorists and truck drivers along a stretch of rural highway about four hours south of Paris in Bordeaux.

Orion built a free-standing American food court, essentially a 70-foot wide trailer; then asked Shea Architects of Minneapolis to add finishing touches that make it unmistakably American, including a jukebox that plays classic rock music. However, because this is France, consumers may also purchase wine—and play boules on the court alongside. French truckers often carry their own balls for this Gallic form of lawn bowling, says Jerry Clark, Orion regional manager/international, adding that Orion was conscious of the need to adapt to the French marketplace. Both Orion and Shea benefited from consulting with an overseas contact for logistics and market research to make the project work smoothly.

And if a marketing study by Euro-monitor, a global market research firm, is to be believed, Orion's timing couldn't be better. Euromonitor reported in a recent survey that changing lifestyles are pushing more people toward fast food products. The company says that foreign tourism, which has led to an internationalizing of food markets, and shorter lunch breaks have also contributed to the trend. The greatest growth in fast food consumption is in European countries, such as France, Germany, Spain and Italy.

Orion, which counts nine fast food specialties among its products, has about 350 employees in Sioux Falls and distributes its products to franchisees in 46 states, including Alaska and Hawaii. Most of Orion's food courts are located in shopping malls, but its products are also sold in grocery and convenience stores.

Based on the success of the latest foreign ventures, plans call for continued expansion in new markets, Clark says. "It's a global marketplace with lots of opportunities."

Kathy Cobb