Postal Service Considers Cutting Into Alcohol Shipping Business

(Credit: Charles Dharapak/AP Photo)

As the U.S. Postal Service faces $15 billion in losses this year as fewer people send mail, one of the ways it hopes to raise money is by shipping alcohol.

Private carriers have been shipping alcohol for decades, but the postal service is prevented by law from engaging in the same business.

This week, Postmaster General Patrick Donahue said he hopes the agency can deliver alcoholic beverages and thereby raise $50 million a year.

"There's a lot of money to be made in shipping beer, wine and spirits," Donahoe told the Associated Press on Thursday. "We'd like to be in that business."

Private shipping company UPS offers wine shipping services for customers who are licensed to ship wine. Smaller shipping firms, like Premier Wine Shipping, which services much of California wine country, would face stiff competition from the postal service's typically lower rates.

The company ships over 600 cases of wine each week from its three locations in St. Helena, Sonoma and Healdsburg, Calif.

Tony Aguilera, general manager for Premier Wine Shipping, said, "A small business like us - with the post office being four or five buildings down - it is going to take a lot of our customers, depending on their prices and their reliability."

Aguilera has initial concerns about the U.S. Postal Service's ability to ship wine safely.

"There have been plenty of times when they've lost packages of mine and there's really no way track something in the same way as UPS and FedEx," he said.

Premier Wine Shipping picks up wine from more than 80 different locations in Napa and Sonoma counties, then outsources shipping to FedEx. Premier Wine Shipping also offers pick-up and delivery to customers' homes.

Last year the Senate passed a postal reform bill that included a provision allowing the delivery of alcohol. The bill requires compliance with any laws in the state of origin and the destination. The measure specifies the recipient would have to be at least 21 years old and would need to provide valid, government-issued photo identification upon delivery, the AP reports.

To save money, the postal service will also slowly shift from door delivery to cluster box and curbside delivery, which it began to do in the 1970s, AP reports.

A spokeswoman for the postal service said most people know the agency doesn't accept alcohol for mailing. The post office's standard operating procedure even states packages "bearing" alcoholic beverage markings and/or labels must be returned to the mailer and not be forwarded to the addressee.