Bob Young vividly remembers the last alligator he trapped. “He was 910 lbs., and I caught him by myself”, the Hillsborough County native and four generation Floridian says. “I jumped on his back and then wished I hadn’t. At that moment, I realized I’d taken leave of my senses, I didn’t want to get hurt (LINK) anymore.” That was 1995, and the former state-licensed trapper hasn’t ridden one since. “I don’t miss it,” says Young, 58. “It’s not just the physical part. My wife and I were working seven days a week, all hours. Meat and hide prices [were down] and the cost of doing business was more than the income.” Still, he hasn’t let go of the toothy critters altogether. These days, the one-time insurance-agency owner is trapping something else: human taste buds with his Alligator Bob’s jerky and meat sticks “The idea goes back to 1990 when, with the help of a University of Florida professor and a Gainesville research firm, he developed the foundation formula for today’s products but it took five years to get the business going.
“We found a manufacturer in Missouri, and he made the first 3,600 [alligator] sticks,” Young says “everybody comes to Florida to see Mickey Mouse and alligators. We thought this was the greatest idea since bottle caps. But when we went to sell them to the convenience stores, they laughed at us. They didn’t want to deal with upstart companies or eating alligators.”
Eventually, the idea took root.
“We started selling to people wanting to take them home as a joke,” he said.
Today’s best customers include gift shops fruit shippers, bait-and-tackle shops and small-to medium-size tourist attractions.
“Fishermen buy them as snacks,” says MaryAnn Huntsman, owner of Turkey Creek Bait & Tackle in Plant City. “I was going to Sam’s to buy meat snacks, then we started buying these three months ago. The cajun sells real well.”
Gatorland, an Orlando tourist attraction, is another customer. “We’ve been carrying them for about four or five months,” says Sharon Howell, a spokeswoman for the reptile park. “The tourists love them because they’re a novelty, and, well, they’re gator and that’s what we’re about.”
State-wide, trappers and farmers sell about 750,000 pounds of alligator meat a year, according to the Florida Alligator Marketing and Educational Committee, an industry and conservation group.
Most is sold to restaurants or individuals through fish houses or meat markets. Retail prices are $6 to $18 a pound.
Chewy, cheaper cuts from the legs are used to make stews and gumbos, among other things. Most tender cuts come from the tails and cheeks.
Young uses nonprime cuts including leg meat. His original alligator sticks remain the headliner, but his line has expanded.
He also sells hot and spicy sticks, two flavors of alligator jerky and alligator bites, and seven kinds of beer sticks -a new arrival that features a variety of meats including bison, venison, ostrich and pork.
“We’re selling a half million sticks a year,” he says. The sticks cost $2 to $3.
Most of his products are sold by 20 or so wholesale distributors.
Young buys 50,000 to 60,000 pounds of meat annually from some of the 200 licensed alligator farms in the Southeast.
The meat is kept in an Orlando cold-storage unit until there’s 5,500 pounds, then it’s shipped to a processing plant in Michigan where the sticks are made.
Join ODU Magazine on Facebook here at this LINK…..
Join ODU Magazine on our Twitter fishing site here at this LINK…..
Join ODU Magazine on our Twitter hunting site here at this LINK…..