Packages

Package

I am very efficient at mailing packages. I know exactly what fits into one of those pre-paid Priority Mail boxes. I keep packing tape in the car. I know to send perishables on a Monday -not later in the week- so they won't sit over the weekend. Usually, my package is 'liquid, fragile, perishable, NOT hazardous'. You guessed it-I have a college student, and I send her care packages.

Sending these care packages may actually benefit me as much as it does my daughter. When I'm especially missing being a day-to-day mom, I can bake a batch of granola bars, print out a picture of her dog, add some other little treats, and seal it all up with a Mom letter. Then I wait for my reward: the happy 'You sent me a package!' text. I love those texts.

Given my mad package know-how, you might think I'd be shipping tasty wines all over, too. Unfortunately, you'd be wrong.

While wineries, breweries, and distilleries have definitely amped up direct to consumer shipping, retail shipping of alcohol has actually lost ground in the US. In 2005, 18 states had full reciprocity shipping, meaning that out-of-state retailers could ship to that state's consumers, and retailers in that state could ship to out-of-state consumers. Today, only 14 states have full reciprocity. And enforcement, once fairly lax, has become much more stringent. In response, Fedex and UPS have stopped accepting shipments of alcohol to all other states.

Massachusetts allows out-of-state producers to ship to in-state consumers, but prohibits retailers from shipping across state lines. So technically, it's illegal for an out-of-state retailer to ship to a MA address. In practice, it's difficult for Fedex and UPS to tell the difference between a package from a retailer and a package from a producer, so a lot of retailers roll the dice on 'illegal' shipping. The penalties for violating the law aren't large: a small fine and the associated taxes.

But a MA retailer shipping to an out-of-state address faces a much stronger penalty: loss of liquor license. Not exactly equal.

I'd love to ship to out-of-state customers. We have a unique selection of wines, craft beers, and spirits, and I'd welcome both the opportunity and the challenge of marketing these products to more consumers. While I realize that interstate shipping will further commodify big brands, I think it could also deliver a boost to the small, independent growers and producers we like to represent. Many forward-thinking retailers feel the same.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, wholesale distributors view this situation through an entirely different lens. The Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) has gone on record in favor of continuing to suppress interstate shipping, claiming that the current system protects jobs, ensures product integrity, and prevents alcohol sales to underage consumers.

(Sidebar:The 'underage drinkers' argument is my favorite. Because when I was 15, I totally mail-ordered a case of beer for a post-game party. Didn't you? After all, teenagers are known for long-range planning...)

This is unlikely to change, because the WSWA has more money-and thus much more lobbying power-than retailers can muster. Money is power, and power is policy.

For the forseeable future, I'll be sticking to those care packages.