When Philip Burdon started growing mushrooms in Christchurch the 1970s, it wasn't just mushrooms he had to grow. He had to grow a Kiwi appetite for the fungi too.

When he started production at Meadow Mushrooms with his business partner Roger Giles, they produced 100 kilos in their first month. Today, Meadow Mushrooms produces around 200 tonnes every week. New Zealanders have gone from being suspicious about mushrooms, to eating an average of 2 kilos each per year.

The pair actually started their operation in Cyprus, after Roger found the perfect home for mushroom growing - old sandstone caverns. At the time, Philip was embarking on a corporate law career in New Zealand.

"I was stimulated by the absurdity of the idea, and was clearly fed up with my career as a corporate executive so we established the mushroom farm in Cyprus." It was growing nicely, but after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, they were forced to move the operation home to New Zealand.


Philip went on to have three daughters with wife Rosalind. Eldest daughter Miranda, who is now the chairwoman of Meadow Mushrooms, says as they grew up, the farm became the fourth child of the family. "The mushroom farm was part of our lives, central to our thinking. On holiday we went to the supermarket to check on the mushrooms."

The girls grew up playing on the farms, and picking mushrooms was their first job. But, like many New Zealanders, it took her a while to enjoy the taste. "Did I enjoy mushrooms growing up to eat? No! I don't think I could say honesty I always enjoyed them, but I enjoyed them more than my sisters. I had one sister who didn't like them till she was 16 or 17."

And that attitude is something they've countered in all New Zealanders. Miranda says her Dad and Roger's ambition has been to expand the market and grow consumption. "It's a product they were told New Zealanders would never eat all year round. But I think if the product is good, it's available and you show people how to use it, it will be eaten."

You can hear more about the Meadow Mushrooms story in this week's episode of HP Business Class here