* Atrium makes vitamins, meal replacements, probiotics
* Deal reflects company's shift toward nutrition, health (Adds background, analyst comment, bullet points)
LONDON, Dec 5 (Reuters) - Nestle is paying $2.3 billion to buy Canadian vitamin maker Atrium Innovations, it said on Tuesday, expanding its presence in consumer healthcare as it seeks to offset weakness in packaged foods.
The world's largest packaged food company is buying the maker of vitamins, probiotics and meal replacements from a group of investors led by Permira Funds. The business will become part of Nestle Health Science, which already sells nutrition products for people with specific medical conditions.
Nestle, the maker of Gerber baby food, Purina pet food and Nescafe coffee has come under pressure this year to improve returns from activist shareholder Third Point.
The deal reflects Nestle's ambition to become a "nutrition, health and wellness" company and comments earlier this year from its new chief executive, Mark Schneider, who identified consumer health as a strategic priority as packaged food slows amid changing consumer tastes.
"They've been trying to articulate a message around Nestle Health Science and health and wellness for some time," Liberum analyst Robert Waldschmidt said. "In terms of nutrition, this makes sense."
Reuters reported last week that Nestle was also examining a bid for the consumer health business of Germany's Merck, which also makes vitamins. Merck's business has a big presence in emerging markets, Waldschmidt said, whereas Atrium tends to be concentrated in developed markets.
Atrium - which has seven factories in the United States, Canada, Europe and Argentina - is expected to have 2017 sales of $700 million. Its biggest brand is Garden of Life supplements.
This is Nestle's fourth purchase in recent months. It announced deals for Sweet Earth vegetarian foods and Blue Bottle coffee in September and Chameleon Cold-Brew coffee in November.
The purchase of Atrium is expected to close in the first quarter of 2018.
Atrium was advised by Morgan Stanley, RBC Capital Markets and William Hood & Co, a division of AXIA Capital Markets. (Reporting by Martinne Geller; Editing by Susan Fenton and David Evans)