Alligator—the Other, Other White Meat
Prices rise as TV shows, foodies boost popularity of unusual entree
By Arian Campo-Flores in the Wall Street Journal
MIAMI—Florida, home to booming markets for condos and tourism, can add another sizzling sector to the list: alligator meat.
Prices for cuts of alligator tail, ribs and tenderloin have doubled in the past three years, reaching record highs. “There’s just more demand than we can meet,” said Allen Register, owner of the Gatorama alligator farm and roadside attraction in Palmdale.
The meat, which comes from both wild and farm-raised reptiles, fetches $12 to $15 a pound wholesale, up from $6 or $7 a pound in 2012, said Genie Tillman, owner of Parker Island Gator Farm in Lake Placid. Data from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission show that farmed alligator meat cost about $4 to $5 a pound wholesale between 1980 and 2010, then jumped to $8.25 a pound in 2013, the most recent figure available.
Demand is rising—and not just in Florida—in part because the alligator industry and state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services have spent years promoting the meat at seafood and restaurant conferences as a lean, high-protein alternative to chicken and pork, farmers and trappers say.
That has encouraged chefs and foodies to experiment with it, beyond fried nuggets, the most common preparation, they say. On the agriculture department’s website, recipes include “alligator scaloppine with sauce Dijon” and “gator tail picadillo.”
TV also is giving the trend more bite. The meat was featured on an episode of the Travel Channel’s “American Grilled” last year. Alligator-themed reality TV shows such as Animal Planet’s “Gator Boys” and “Swamp People” on History “are getting more exposure for the whole industry,” said John Easley, development representative at the state Bureau of Seafood and Aquaculture Marketing.
Though alligators once were an endangered species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed them from the list in 1987. The number of wild alligators now tops one million in Florida, says the state agriculture department. And some 30 Florida farmers raise them for their meat and hides. Because the farmed animals are harvested at a younger age, their meat usually is more tender.
Mr. Register said demand has been so strong for his packages of tail and ribs that he began buying additional meat from another farmer. As head of the Florida Alligator Marketing and Education Committee, an industry group, he promoted the meat vigorously at trade shows in the past. Now, he barely does.
“We haven’t had to spend any money or time on it,” Mr. Register said. “Why promote it when we can sell everything we produce?”
Some in the industry are branching out. Tracy Howell, owner of Florida Alligator Processing in Plant City, said he is working on developing alligator sausages and patties that he hopes to get on store shelves within a year.
“I think the market will continue to get stronger,” he said. “People are realizing it’s not just a novelty thing and that it’s good prepared different ways.”