It could the home fireplace or – given the summertime season – the backyard fire pit. In either place, the most enjoyable fires have the right mix of fuel and air for embers that generate a long, slow burn.

Similarly, the private label market is poised to generate some considerable heat. Although the basic fuel or business has been around for quite some time - the right mix of elements (a recession, increased product quality) is creating the base for sustained growth.

GfK Custom Research North America, New York, N.Y., recently surveyed nearly 800 primary household grocery shoppers and found that 91 percent plan to keep buying own label products after the recession. Shoppers say they have been impressed with private label quality and 90 percent agree that product quality is as good as or better than national brands. About half of those surveyed also said they would want their supermarket to carry an even broader array of private label items.

Perhaps most interesting, GfK found 35 percent of shoppers are still trying private label products in categories where they had previously only purchased national brand items.

This point goes straight to the heart of the matter - or the center of the plate, as it were. Before now, private label hasn’t competed significantly with retail packaged frozen entrees. However, as readers will find in this month’s cover feature, private label frozen prepared food companies literally are stepping up to match growing demand.

And there is increased demand in the refrigerated and frozen food categories. Clear Seas Research, Troy, Mich., interviewed more than 100 retailers this May and found that they see large, short-term growth opportunities in private label refrigerated/frozen meal solutions; as well as natural and organic foods and beverages.

This portends to be especially interesting era of retail packaged food competition. We say that because major branded processors in frozen entrees, pizza and snacks are themselves healthy and quite focused on product innovation.

No matter what, consumers will win and refrigerated and frozen food department sales should grow.