As the economy opens back up in many places and things start going back to normal for some people, businesses that have been struggling amid the pandemic should be in much better shape. For investors, that makes this a good time to zero in on stocks that have may have underperformed up until now but could be poised for some better performances over the latter half of the year.

Three stocks that fall into that category include Intuitive Surgical (NASDAQ:ISRG)Restaurant Brands (NYSE:QSR), and Winnebago (NYSE:WGO). Year to date, they haven't been doing as well as the S&P 500 -- but that could change quickly, as these could be among the better buys out there today.

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1. Intuitive Surgical

Intuitive Surgical is a terrific investment for the long haul. The surgical robotics market could be worth nearly $17 billion by 2031, growing at a compounded annual growth rate of more than 10% until then, according to estimates from ResearchAndMarkets.

Intuitive Surgical's da Vinci systems look to be a great way to tap into that potential, but the company has hit a bit of a road bump. With hospitals pushing off procedures during the pandemic and focusing on COVID-19, Intuitive's sales haven't exactly been soaring. 

Here's a quick overview of the company's key growth numbers over the past four quarters related to its da Vinci systems:

Period Shipments Procedures Install Base
Q1 2021 26% 16% 8%
Q4 2020 (3%) 6% 7%
Q3 2020 (29%) 7% 8%
Q2 2020 (35%) (19%) 9%

Data source: Company filings. All figures represent year-over-year growth rates.

In its most recent quarterly results, for the period ending March 31, the company has seen a return to growth in year-over-year shipments after being in the negative since the pandemic began to slow down operations at hospitals. Sales of $1.29 billion during the period were up 18% from the prior-year period; the last time it generated double-digit growth was a year earlier, in Q1 2020, when its top line increased by 13%.

Investors should continue to see strong results from Intuitive here on out, and assuming that happens, the healthcare stock could be a terrific buy. So far in 2021, its shares are up by about 15%, slightly less than the S&P 500's 16%.

2. Restaurant Brands

The restaurant industry has struggled during the pandemic as shutdowns and reduced operations have limited potential sales. But now that is changing in many places, and as people go back to meeting with friends and family at restaurants and celebrating events, a top stock like Restaurant Brands is in great shape to benefit from the return to normalcy. 

Its chains, which include Burger King, Tim Hortons, and Popeyes, are already showing signs of recovery. On April 30, the company reported its results for the first quarter, and sales from all three restaurants grew by a combined 1.4%. A year before, sales were flat during the pandemic's early stages. It's also a big improvement from the last three months of 2020, during which the company's systemwide sales (including revenue from all restaurants) were down 8% year over year.

A great reason to be bullish on the stock (over the long run) is that the company is expanding its smallest chain, Popeyes, internationally. Over the next decade, Popeyes will open more than 1,000 new restaurants across multiple markets, including the U.K., India, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia.

Now, with some light at the end of the tunnel and COVID-19 restrictions easing, the company's sales numbers should continue to improve. And over the years, they should get even stronger as the Popeyes brand gets bigger. With the stock up just 6% year to date, this may be a great time to add Restaurant Brands to your portfolio before it begins to rally on stronger results.

3. Winnebago

Recreational vehicles should be in high demand over the summer months, as this is a time when people go camping. Winnebago released its quarterly results on June 23, and it is already generating some great numbers. Sales for the third quarter, ending May 29, totaled $961 million and rose an incredible 139% year over year. Sales from its towable products were up 194%, and motor home revenue grew by 89%.

Those are exceptional numbers that Winnebago simply isn't used to -- in fiscal 2020 its sales were up by just 19%, and the year before that they declined. Pent-up demand for travel could be a big driver for the business in the near future.

And betting on the recreational and outdoors market makes sense right now, especially given that non-U.S. countries are still battling the pandemic and having to figure out where you can and cannot go could be a big deterrent for travelers. According to TripAdvisor, two-thirds of Americans are planning vacations this summer, but an overwhelming number of those (74%) are going to stay within the country.

Winnebago's stock has climbed 13% in 2021. It wouldn't be surprising for it to rally even more if it can continue posting strong numbers later this year -- and there's little reason to doubt that it can.

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.