Bob" Young peeks through the jaws of an alligator
his wife killed three years ago. The former state-Licensed
trapper has switched from catching the creatures to
selling them - in meaty snack sticks.
Gators Catch On
of The Tempa Tribune
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 anymore."
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.
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
the idea took root.
started selling to people wanting to take them home as a joke,"
best customers include gift shops fruit shippers, bait-and-tackle
shops and small-to medium-size tourist attractions.
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."
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.
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.
uses nonprime cuts including leg meat. His original alligator
sticks remain the headliner, but his line has expanded.
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.
selling a half million sticks a year," he says. The sticks
cost $2 to $3.
his products are sold by 20 or so wholesale distributors.
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.