The majority of new food products fail following launch. The aim of this research has therefore been to model the food product development process and to determine the relative importance of factors comprising the model in terms of product outcome. Data was gathered by qualitative interview. Food product developers (n = 47) from food companies based in England and Northern Ireland (n = 27) were required to describe their experiences and provide insight into problems encountered in the invention, development, launch and marketing of new standard and reduced fat food products. Interviews were recorded, transcribed and content analysed thematically. Data from 127 product case histories were binary coded, screened and modelled through a series of logistic regression analyses against product outcome (success/failure) as defined by the company concerned. The resulting model implies that actions taken during the concept phase of the product development process and the nature of expertise employed during the process are particularly important for product success. It is recommended that appropriate expertise is enlisted at product conception and that a food technologist is employed to ensure that the texture of the product is acceptable. Whilst it is important to liaise with retailers throughout the process, manufacturers should formulate their own product recipes and avoid following trends in food and `me too' product development. (C) 2003 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.