After more than two years of selling mobile plans to customers, Sainsbury's is very suddenly exiting the game. Talks with Vodafone, the carrier underpinning the mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), apparently broke down, leading the supermarket chain to quietly pull monthly plans from its website. A knowledgeable source told Engadget that Sainsbury's began removing marketing material in stores yesterday and is in the process of contacting existing customers about their next steps.
"We regret that Mobile by Sainsbury's - a joint venture between Sainsbury's and Vodafone UK - offering a mobile phone service to Sainsbury's customers is ending and the service will no longer be available from 15 January 2016," Vodafone said in a statement. "Mobile by Sainsbury's priority now is to help its customers and make sure they are inconvenienced as little as possible."
Sainsbury's issued a similar response, adding: "We will continue to sell mobile phones and accessories in our 38 in-store phone shops and to sell handsets in over 300 of our stores."
While the move is certainly sudden, there have been rumours of a potential disconnect for a number of months. In July, TalkTalk claimed that Vodafone was "in the process of withdrawing entirely from the MVNO market' in documents filed with the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) over the upcoming BT/EE merger. Vodafone vigorously denied that was the case and noted that it would continue "to provide MVNO services to Sainsbury's and Talk Mobile."
The closure of Mobile by Sainsbury's is the second time the company has left the MVNO market. In 2001, it launched Sainsbury's One, which quickly underwent a rebrand and shut up shop in 2003. Rival supermarket Tesco launched later that year and now counts more than 4 million customers (although there are rumours that could soon be sold off).
If you are a Mobile by Sainsbury's customer, worry not, as the company will continue to support your plan for another 90 days. That means you'll have until January 15th to secure a move to another network. The supermarket will issue you a PAC code, which will let you carry over your number to your next carrier.
[Image credit: Sainsbury's, Flickr]