The future is becoming less and less predictable with every election cycle, news cycle, and storm season. But based on their long history in their category, our team of publishers and research analysts at MarketResearch.com share their predictions about a variety of sectors that are undergoing rapid change — including food, technology, health care, automotive, and educational publishing.

1. The Demand for Transparency Will Transform Food Retail

More and more, food shoppers are looking for products that are natural and healthy, and they want proof that what they’re buying is free of chemical-laden substances.

According to David Sprinkle, research director at Packaged Facts, this “show me” standard will continue changing what packaged foods and restaurant menus look like. For example, more specialty manufacturers will avoid artificial food coloring and use the natural coloring of vegetables, fruits, and spices — as in the case of matcha donuts or turmeric ice cream. Instead of blending a dish, chefs will juxtapose and layer featured ingredients, so consumers can more clearly see what their food contains.

The demand for greater transparency isn’t limited to the ingredients on labels, it will also change how food is made, packaged, and presented. “‘If you’re explaining, you’re losing,’ as the political axiom goes, and trend-setting artisans and foodies are increasingly politicized about food processes and choices,” explains Sprinkle. “Today’s empowered consumers expect innovation, but reject the unexplained.”

2. Smart Devices Will Offer New Life-Hacks to Consumers

While the need for transparency will dominate much of food retail, the tech industry will unleash new gadgets that are designed to minimize household problems.

From smartphone-connected thermostats to the sudden ubiquity of voice-controlled assistants like Amazon’s Echo, many of the hottest products on the market now come with smart capabilities, a trend that is expected to grow stronger in 2018 and beyond.

“Basically anything that makes your life easier is going to see technological development,” says Kyle Peters, an industry analyst at The Freedonia Group. “But the biggest trend right now is not just the development and introduction of individual smart products, but the incorporation of those products into a common ecosystem.”

As consumers increasingly turn to smart products for the convenience they offer, manufacturers see growth opportunities in equipping these products with the technology to operate via one, consolidated system, such as the Amazon Echo, Google Home, or Apple’s Homekit, forthcoming in 2018.

But smarter technology doesn’t only mean simpler systems. Many new products either minimize or completely remove the need for end user intervention. For example, Amazon and Brita partnered up on a water pitcher that automatically orders replacement filters when the current one nears capacity. And once installed, the Google Home-friendly Nest Thermostat studies a household’s schedule and ultimately learns to adjust the temperature accordingly, no action required.

3. Individuals Will Take a More Active Role in Their Health Care

Consumers may increasingly prefer a “hands-off” mode when it comes to their home tech devices, but they are often taking a more proactive approach to their own health care. Many consumers are eager to self-monitor all kinds of health metrics, including genetics.

“Consumers are increasingly bypassing the physician and ordering genetic tests themselves in order to determine their risk for disease and to make lifestyle changes to adjust,” says Bruce Carlson, publisher of Kalorama Information.

Companies like 23andme.com sell not only nationality and ancestry testing but also reports for genetic health risk, which reveal whether one has an increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, or other conditions. This practice was held back by the FDA until recently, and medical associations have been wary that these tests will lead to demands for unnecessary procedures.

But public demand for the tests is great. “Watch for this conflict between the public’s desire to know their genetic risk and the cost-cutting concerns of the healthcare system to play out in 2018,” Carlson says.

4. Autonomous Machines Will Extend Far Beyond Automobiles

As the world’s largest automakers clamber to be the first with a self-driving vehicle on the road that is safe enough for the mainstream, manufacturers in other industries wait eagerly for the opportunity to apply the inchoate technology to their own product lines.

“Currently, many of these systems rely on pre-set schedules or app-based remote activation capabilities,” says Jennifer Mapes-Christ, consumer and commercial products expert with The Freedonia Group. “The inclusion of autonomous technology will enable products to respond on their own to changed conditions, activating only when needed rather than when scheduled or when told.”

Sensors under development by the likes of Toyota and GM, whose analytics and object detection capabilities are key to the commercial viability of drones and robots, are hard to come by. Currently, limited supply chains have rendered the technology unavailable or prohibitively expensive for non-automotive applications, because demand far exceeds output. But as regulations are ironed out and public trust in the vehicles is earned, self-driving vehicles will become increasingly commonplace, and so will manufacturers’ access to the technology.

As a result, the high cost of the aerial drones now on the market will come down — by as much as a third in the next five years — and ground-based robots will also see increased adoption in a vast array of applications.

From lawnmowers and vacuum cleaners to personal assistants, security guards, and virtually everything in between, autonomous machines will begin to significantly impact everyday life in 2018.

5. Educational Publishers Will Confront an OER Future

Many of the trends cited so far will create innovation and potentially boost revenue. But some industries, such as educational publishing, face looming challenges in 2018.

“The growth and use of open educational resources (OER) — low-cost and often free — is one of the most significant factors that will shape the future of the $12 billion PreK-12 and higher education instructional materials industry,” explains Kathy Mickey, managing editor at Simba Information.

Simba Information believes the impact likely will be felt more widely in higher education as awareness and acceptance of OER among faculty increases. OER currently is having a negative 1% to 2% impact on industry revenue, according to Simba estimates.

Commercial publishers are going to have to look to technology platforms and tools that accommodate OER for revenue growth. As a result of the OER impact, Simba believes a constriction in the size of the industry will be the norm for some time to come.

Pickup of OER is slower in the K-12 sector, but K-12 publishers are increasingly incorporating OER in their large core programs or curating a variety of OER resources to offer teachers a pre-packaged library of authenticated resources.

Staying Ahead of the Curve

The five industry trends mentioned above are just a few of the developments that are worth keeping an eye on in the coming year. As we look to the future, the one constant we can expect is ongoing change and mounting pressure for companies to innovate at an accelerated pace. The ability to adapt — and keep informed — will be critical for business survival.