Britain's ice cream sector was facing serious supply shortages this week as Unilever UK was forced to close its only UK ice cream factory as a result of the floods that ravaged parts of England.

The food giant ceased production at its plant in Gloucester after water supplies to the site were cut off following a technical failure at the local water treatment centre that supplies it.

The plant, which makes three million ice cream products every day for the UK and Europe, could not continue production because without water it would not be able to maintain hygiene, it said.

Unilever commands 45% of the UK's £1.1bn-a-year ice cream market, according to figures from trade body the Ice Cream Alliance. The Grocer's most recent Top Products Survey showed that Unilever had the top three brands in tubs, with Carte d'Or, Wall's and Ben & Jerry's, and in handheld ice cream, with Magnum, Cornetto and Solero.

All except Ben & Jerry's, which is made in the Netherlands, are manufactured at the Gloucester factory.

Unilever UK head of media Trevor Gorin said the plant would be closed for the "foreseeable future" - but also moved to reassure the company's customers that ice cream remained available. The factory's cold store, which contained some stocks, was being kept operational by water tankers supplying the chillers.

Meanwhile, warehouses dotted around the country - and unaffected by the catastrophe - also had stocks to keep supermarkets and wholesalers supplied with ice cream.

However, the failure of the water supply meant Unilever had been unable to produce any further ice cream products since Monday.

Another high-profile casualty of the disaster was Midcounties Co-operative Society, which operates in the heartland of the worst-affected areas.

It was forced to close its chilled distribution centre in Osney Mead, Oxford, which supplies its 150 food stores, on Monday, and the depot remained shut as The Grocer went to press.

A spokesman said water had reached the doors of the depot and vehicles were unable to get in and out.

Deliveries had been sent out at the start of the week and it had been working with other societies, particularly the Co-operative Group, to keep stores stocked.

Its headquarters in Botley, Oxford, also closed on Tuesday due to the flood risk.

It also emerged this week that the Cadbury Schweppes sugar confectionery factory in Sheffield - which makes Jelly Babies and Liquorice Allsorts - remained partially closed after flooding rendered the manufacturing plant inoperable on 25 June.

Spar wholesaler Appleby Westward said it was no longer being supplied with Cadbury Trebor Bassett brands from the plant.

A spokesman for Bestway said it had been informed the situation could last for eight weeks.

But Tony Bilsborough, Cadbury Schweppes media relations manager, said: "Many parts of our Sheffield factory are now back up and working and we expect to be fully operational within the next couple of weeks."