Five questions you must ask before starting new product development

At this month’s NPD Food & Drink Conference (Trend & Innovations), five useful questions were proposed: the five ‘Ws’ of product development.

Several of these ‘Ws’ are the question ‘Why’, therefore I was initially expecting to see five Whys – a well-established method to root cause an issue or opportunity, but this is different. Firstly, the five questions are not all ‘Why’, but just start with ‘W’.  And secondly, there are actually six of them! I think this is down to more of an evolution of the day than some clever methodology.

The day involved great discussion and insight from the likes of Kevin Hancock from Ocado and Miguel Uribe from Whole Foods Market, but I will attribute most of this to Paul Thomas, Global Head of Insight at Asahi Beer (which includes Peroni, Grolsch and others) – thank you Paul.

The morning’s discussion, chaired by Ann Dunne of Harrods, asked a lot about why so many new product launches fail – according to Kantar 70% of products launched in the last three years are no longer on the shelf – and how to maximise the chance for success. Paul summarised  six ‘W’ questions you should ask very early in the process.

The six questions you need to ask ahead of product development:

Who are you launching this product for?

And the answer cannot be as generic as (say) ‘millennials’. Know the customer. Define the ‘actors’; define the clear demographic so you can ensure the product is right for that intended customer.

When is the product for?

When is the occasion of use (which defines what format, flavour, packaging etc.). 

Where will they consume this product?

Again, this needs to be specific. For example, its insufficient to just say ‘at home’, so is at the dining table as opposed to on the couch in front of the TV? The use and experience is very different. For example, in the UK there are 37.3 million gamers according to market research by itwp, and 35% of gamers buy food and drink specifically for when playing video games (which is as high as 55% for Gen Z gamers). 

Why does a consumer actually want this product?  

You no doubt know why you want to sell it, but why does the consumer actually want this new product?  All of these questions help avoid NPD for the sake of NPD (which is always a risk) so ensure you ask the Why.

Why will you win with this product?

 What’s the reason to buy this new product over whatever else is available?

And here’s the 6th ‘W’: What else are consumers doing?

In answering this question about what the consumer does today, it answers the questions relating to where will you win business from. It also closes the loop back to the first question: who? 

Within this context of ‘who?’ and ‘what else are they doing?’, there are all three clear categories:

  • to recruit new customers
  • to re recruit those lost customers or,
  • to disrupt the market and create a new need/customers

Get those three confused at your peril!


A key takeaway from this advice is don’t just innovate because you can!  I am sure everyone in product development asks some or most of these questions but I think there was consensus in the room that to ensure you ask all of these, and all of the time will help to ensure time and investment is in the right projects, and will increase the likelihood of success.

The other strong message was to ensure these questions are asked early and used to socialise the ideas within the business. It is too late to ask these questions at panel or board approval.

For some other thoughts on the NPD process you may also be interested in this short piece from Jan Fura. Jan specifically talks about the own brand product development process and how to avoid the path to failure when it comes to implementing NPD software. 

James Butcher

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