While even economists are unsure of whether the U.S. economy is heading for a recession, it's always a good idea to have a plan in place in case the unexpected and catastrophic happens. Investing in businesses that can survive a market crash, and doing so before that calamity happens, is just common sense.

Constellation Brands (NYSE:STZ), Waste Management (NYSE:WM), and Target (NYSE:TGT) are just the sort of sturdy plays that can weather a storm, according to these three Motley Fool contributors. Here's the thinking behind why investors should get in now.

Man holding head in front of declining stock charts.

Image source: Getty Images.

Bottoms up

Jeremy Bowman (Constellation Brands): Some sectors of the economy fair better than others in a recession. Alcohol is one of them. People turn to beer, wine, and spirits in good times and bad, whether to celebrate a night out with friends or to "drown your sorrows" after a tough day.

Therefore, the alcohol sector is relatively immune to the vicissitudes of the broader economy, making it a good way to add some stability to your portfolio. One stock that's worth a closer look to help recession-proof your investments is Constellation Brands, the domestic distributor of Modelo Group beers, including Corona. Constellation also owns several wine and spirit brands, though it's in the process of reorienting its portfolio to more premium brands in order to capture a faster-growing, higher-margin segment of the market.

Constellation shares surged following its 2013 acquisition of Modelo Group's beer business, but more recently the stock has cooled off. It's actually down 15% from the end of 2017, making it something of a value and growth stock at the same time.

In its most recent quarter, revenue in the key beer segment increased 7.4% and operating income rose 11.7%, as margins expanded due to the pricing power the company's brands have enjoyed. 

Additionally, Constellation is no ordinary alcohol company. The brewer has invested $4 billion in Canopy Growth to give it an approximate 37% stake in one of Canada's leading cannabis companies. That gives Constellation exposure to another recession-proof growth market, and one that could actually benefit from an economic downturn, as U.S. states and even the federal government will be more likely to look at marijuana legalization if tax revenues plunge in a recession.

Investors can get this kind of recession-proof upside potential in a stock trading at a P/E ratio just around the market average. I'll drink to that.

Things always go to waste

John Bromels (Waste Management): Supposedly, the only things certain in life are death and taxes, but trash -- more particularly, increasing volumes of trash -- is pretty darn close to a sure thing. Whether the market's up or down, a growing population results in more things getting thrown away. And as more things get thrown away, we're going to need more trucks to haul them and more landfill space to store them.

That's why trash hauler and landfill operator Waste Management is a good choice for a stock to own when the market collapses. Obviously, a recession is likely to hurt the broader market, including Waste Management. However, companies and municipalities looking to cut costs aren't going to cancel their trash service except as a last resort.

Another factor playing in Waste Management's favor is that weather is unaffected by recessions. Disasters like floods and hurricanes happen in good times and bad. Lately, they've been happening more frequently, and again, even a cash-strapped community is going to need someone to clear away disaster-related debris and landfill it. As the largest landfill operator in North America, Waste Management is often that someone.

In recent months, investors have been bidding up Waste Management's shares. That's partly due to the company's consistent outperformance, but it also may be because they recognize that Waste Management is a good stock to own during a crash. Currently, the company's P/E ratio is at about 28.8. If that number pushes above 30, I'd think long and hard before buying because it might indicate that shares are overvalued.

Still, at current levels, Waste Management looks like a solid stock to buy if you're expecting a crash.

A retail adversary worth watching

Rich Duprey (Target): Although the retail industry was one that was devastated by the last recession, Target has dramatically reinvented itself so that should the economy tank once more, its business will be much more resilient.

The mass merchandiser has positioned its stores to enter any market. It has several hundred superstores with 170,000 square feet or more of space, around 1,500 more traditional stores with over 50,000 square feet of space, and dozens of smaller stores under 50,000 square feet that can more conveniently focus on urban areas.

Perhaps more important is the transformation of Target's e-commerce platform. The retailer was notoriously late in establishing a digital presence, and it was one of the reasons for its relative underperformance, particularly during the last recession. However, since then, it has created a world-class experience that is proving to be a profitable one. By strategically using its physical stores as fulfillment centers for online orders, including for groceries, it has blunted the impact Amazon.com has on its performance.

The e-commerce giant's Prime membership loyalty program is converting to one-day delivery, but because it lacks a brick-and-mortar presence, it is actually at a disadvantage to the same-day fulfillment options Target and other mass retailers can provide. Whether with in-store pickup or through delivery options like Shipt, which Target bought last year, the retailer can give customers virtual instant gratification on their purchases.

By insulating itself from online threats while protecting its physical assets by bringing them closer to where customers live, Target is positioned to thrive in, not just survive, the next economic downturn.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.