The key word was "resources." Esskay had them, Mash's needed them and the outcome was inevitable.

At least that's what analysts say about the acquisition last week of Landover-based Mash's Food Products Inc. by Esskay Inc., a Baltimore-based subsidiary of the pork packing and processing giant Smithfield Foods Inc.

Nearby Mash's was an ideal acquisition candidate for Smithfield's Esskay unit, said George Shipp, who follows Smithfield as vice president of research at Scott & Stringfellow in Norfolk. "It's a company that's right in their own back yard, it's a great fit in terms of shelf space, it's got a fairly modern plant, and they get a new brand name out of it."

Although details of the sale agreement were not disclosed, Shipp added, "one suspects the seller was not negotiating from a strong selling position."

Mash's has had internal troubles and a succession of owners since it was sold by its founder, Nathan Mash, in 1987. Its problems were compounded by an industry generally inhospitable to smaller companies that don't have the financial and marketing resources to compete in an increasingly competitive industry.

"The industry has been going through a shakeout for the last year to 18 months," Shipp said of a national trend of larger companies in the industry acquiring smaller ones. The industry's capacity to process pork has outstripped the supply of hogs, and hog prices recently have hovered near all-time highs, he said.

"Given the consolidation that's going on, it made sense to look at either a joint venture or an acquisition," said Larry Lautt, who became president of Mash's when St. John Mortgage Co., a Pennsylvania investment firm, acquired the meat processor last summer. "We just didn't feel we had the resources to continue in the business the way we wanted because of our size and purchasing power."

"Smithfield ... has a history of making acquisitions of companies that are troubled in some way," Shipp said. "They have a good track record of turning around troubled companies."

Lautt said the company's decision to sell -- it was Mash's that broached the subject with Esskay, he said -- was not a result of the financial problems inherited from the company's previous owners. "Those were all things that we anticipated going in," he said.

"The diminished supply of raw materials in the fourth quarter of 1989, and then into the early part of this year" took a toll, he said. "It became a difficult time for everybody."

Lautt, along with the other managers from Mash's who are not going to work for Esskay, has formed another food processing company, MFP Inc., to continue making beef delicatessen products at Mash's Baltimore plant, which was not included in the Esskay deal.

But he said he is happy about the acquisition by Smithfield, if only because it gives Mash's remaining employees a more secure source of weekly paychecks.

Robin W. Bissell, president of Esskay, could not be reached for comment last week.

"Probably the most valuable thing {Smithfield gets} is the Mash's brand name," which is well recognized locally, said Michael M. Via, director of research for Anderson and Strudwick in Richmond. "The real key is to own as many brand names as possible, because the more brand names, the more shelf space."

As for Mash's, "being tied to what's almost a national company ... does open up some marketing opportunities," Via said.

"There'll be some overhead that will be eliminated ... and their sales may improve.

"But what this means to the employees of Mash's, really," he said, "is that they can keep their jobs."