PITTSBURGH (AP) _ Dutch food maker Royal Numico is acquiring General Nutrition Companies Inc., a leading producer of vitamins and other nutritional supplements, for $1.75 billion in cash.

The deal, under which Royal Numico will also assume roughly $760 million in debt, creates what the two companies called the largest firm in the world devoted exclusively to nutrition.

The companies plan to jointly market products that Numico has developed, including nutritional supplements for athletes and heart patients. The two companies will retain their own names, and no jobs losses are expected as a result of the deal.

Analyst Matt Patsky of the Boston investment firm Adams, Harkness & Hill Inc. said the acquisition marked an unusual emphasis on research in the nutrition business, where companies have often relied on marketing existing products, rather than rolling out new ones, in order to build up their reputations.

Numico research director Albert Eenink stressed this aspect of the deal in an interview with the AP. ``We have in the pipeline a lot of products that could both benefit the GNC business and the company in Europe,'' he said.

While GNC will benefit from Numico's research, Numico can take advantage of GNC's distribution and advertising, said Gary Giblen, an analyst for Bank of America Montgomery.

Royal Numico ``really is an excellent research firm but not one that's particularly worldly in bringing stuff to the U.S. or other parts of the world,'' Giblen said. ``It's the simple and perfect marriage of marketing and research and distribution.''

GNC shareholders will receive $25 per share for their stock, a slight premium over GNC's closing price of $22.87 1/2 Friday on the Nasdaq Stock Market. Stock markets were closed Monday in observance of Independence Day.

GNC is expanding a Greenville, S.C. manufacturing plant to help meet an anticipated boost in sales because of the deal, said Bill Watts, GNC's president and chief executive. Watts said the expansion would likely mean new jobs, but he didn't know how many.

GNC announced in June that it was buying an 8 percent stake in drugstore.com, an on-line prescription retailer, a move intended to build its strengths in advertising and distribution.

Numico, a major supplier of baby food in Europe, earned a profit of $180 million on sales of $1.6 billion last year. The company employed 10,500 people in more than 40 countries.

GNC had a 1998 profit of $90 million on sales of $1.4 billion. The Pittsburgh-based company employed 13,800 people in more than 4,000 stores in all 50 states and 25 foreign markets.